Do you believe the Earth is hollow or at least hiding numerous large interior spaces? Do you fear that life on the surface may end soon and it’s critical to begin building cities underground? Would you like to win $2 million? Then DARPA is looking for you!
“The DARPA Subterranean Challenge explores innovative new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, and search underground environments.”
DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Defense Department, recently announced the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, “inviting the scientific and engineering communities—as well as the public—to use their creativity and resourcefulness to come up with new technologies and concepts to make the inaccessible accessible.” And by “the inaccessible,” DARPA means the vast underworld of caves, tunnels, urban underground spaces and other big holes in the ground – both known and unknown – that are currently difficult to navigate, let alone discover.
As governments already know, the underground world is expanding faster than its resources can monitor, protect and patrol them. More mines are being drilled to new depths, more tunnels are being dug, more mysterious sinkholes are forming, more cities are moving offices, living areas, public utilities and other facilities underground due to surface space restrictions and security. As anyone who has explored a cave or fallen into an open manhole knows, the underworld is difficult to traverse and maps are scarce, leaving it open to those with reasons to hide … if they’re not there already.
Enter DARPA and the Subterranean Challenge. Announced in December, DARPA will unveil more details at a proposers day event on Jan. 18 in Arlington, Virginia. What is known so far is that the challenge will consist of two tracks – a virtual track to test software on a simulated course and a systems track to physically navigate daunting underground spaces. Teams made up of scientists, techies, spelunkers, military personnel, adventurers and the general public will choose their track, then compete on one of three test courses: a network of man-made tunnels, a subterranean municipal transit system and a network of natural caves. The final event, to be held in 2021, will put the teams in real and virtual environments combining all three courses. As if that doesn’t sound like more fun than a muddy obstacle course, a grand prize of $2 million will be awarded to the winning team, with other smaller prizes as well.
The total of $2.8 million in prizes shows that DARPA is serious about solving the problems of underground navigation. The fact that it's using a competition to solve them hints that it may have no idea where to begin on its own. It’s easy to see how this information can be used to search for terrorists or prevent future attacks. But what else is behind the Subterranean Challenge. Is the government getting ready to move massive numbers of people underground in the event of a nuclear attack or a catastrophic natural disaster? Is it looking to move just a select few people underground and leave the rest to suffer on the surface? Is it looking for the long-rumored Hollow Earth and its residents?
If you win, will you spend your $2 million to move underground … or to another country?