DARPA Robotic Vehicle Grand Challenge
The Department of Defense's research arm, the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA), has announced that 23 robotic vehicles have successfully qualified to move on to the next leg of DARPA's Grand Challenge competition in the Mojave desert on October 8 to compete for a $2 million prize. The challenge is designed to encourage research for the development of autonomous ground vehicles for use on the battlefield.
Last year's 142-mile challenge through the desert, ended with none of the competitors successfully completing the course for the $1 million prize. In fact, the best competitor went only about 7 miles.
At the start of the race, the vehicles are given GPS coordinates, which, combined with on-board sensory equipment, are used to navigate a demanding course across the desert. The team who's vehicle completes the route most quickly within 10 hours will receive $2 million. The route will be no more than 175 miles over desert terrain and will include natural and man-made obstacles. The exact route is not revealed until two hours before the event begins.
During the National Qualifying Event (NQE) the vehicles were required to navigate a three-mile course that included various obstacles, a tunnel, rough terrain, and a speed element.
Among qualifying participants was Stanford University's VW Toureg vehicle, named "Stanley" (see photo). The vehicle integrates artificial intelligence software and a rich mix of sensors to give the car the ability to spot obstacles and quickly plan the best route to get around them. The car uses a combination of lasers, radar, and video to "see" what's ahead, and GPS and inertial navigation to keep track of how it's progressing. The mostly custom-written software is run on six Intel Pentium M- based computers rack-mounted in the trunk.
In addition to the military goals of the contest, the Stanford team hopes that its research will assist in developing intelligent driver assistance systems to reduce the approximately 44,000 fatalities that occur from traffic accidents in the U.S. each year.
See: DARPA Grand Challenge 2005 website for more information.