DARPA Seeks Tools to Capture Underground Worlds in 3D

By: DARPA Outreach

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DARPA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to augment its understanding of state-of-the-art technologies for 3D mapping and surveying.

DARPA is seeking information on state-of-the-art technologies and methodologies for advanced mapping and surveying in support of the agency’s Subterranean (SubT) Challenge. Georeferenced data – geographic coordinates tied to a map or image – could significantly improve the speed and accuracy of warfighters in time-sensitive active combat operations and disaster-related missions in the subterranean domain. Today, the majority of the underground environments are uncharted or inadequately mapped, including human-made tunnels, underground infrastructure, and natural cave networks.

Through the Request for Information, DARPA is looking for innovative technologies to collect highly accurate and reproducible ground-truth data for subterranean environments, which would potentially disrupt and positively leverage the subterranean domain without prohibitive cost and with less risk to human lives. These innovative technologies will allow for exploring and exploiting these dark and dirty environments that are too dangerous to deploy humans.

“What makes subterranean areas challenging for precision mapping and surveying – such as lack of GPS, constrained passages, dark or dust-filled air – is similar to what inhibits safe and speedy underground operations for our warfighters,” said Timothy Chung, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). “Building an accurate three-dimensional picture is a key enabler to rapidly and remotely exploring and searching subterranean spaces.”

DARPA is looking for commercial products, software, and services available to enable high-fidelity, 3D mapping and surveying of underground environments. Of interest are available technologies that offer high accuracy and high resolution, with the ability to provide precise and reproducible survey points without reliance on substantial infrastructure (e.g., access to global fixes underground). Additionally, relevant software should also allow for generated data products to be easily manipulated, annotated, and rendered into 3D mesh objects for importing into simulation and game engine environments.

DARPA may select proposers to demonstrate their technologies or methods to determine feasibility of capabilities for potential use in the SubT Challenge in generating and sharing 3D datasets of underground environments.

Such accurately georeferenced data may aid in scoring the SubT competitors’ performance in identifying and reporting the location of artifacts placed within the course. In addition, renderings from these data may provide DARPA with additional visualization assets to showcase competition activities in real-time and/or post-production.


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