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We’ve been vying for the inside scoop on DARPA’s latest robotics challenge since it was announced in late 2017. Teams are now getting a taste of what lies ahead in early integration exercises, and one thing’s certain: This challenge will take robots where they’ve never gone before.

The Subterranean (or SubT) Challenge promotes the development of next-gen war robots that can navigate and map underground tunnels and caves. The effort aligns with broader trends in robotics development toward systems that can be deployed in difficult-to-reach areas, including in infrastructure inspectiondisaster relief, and mining.

I got a chance to lob questions at Dr. Tim Chung of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office and the program manager of the SubT. Turns out the defense industry won’t be the only beneficiary of an army of mole bots.