FONTANA, Calif., 4 Oct. 2005. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) today announced that 22 robotic ground vehicles have successfully traversed an obstacle course designed to resemble conditions that they will encounter in the October 8 DARPA Grand Challenge event.
The ongoing semifinal competition, known as the National Qualification Event (NQE), continues at the California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., through Wednesday, October 5.
By October 6, DARPA will announce a field of 20 finalists to compete for a $2 million cash prize in the Grand Challenge Event (GCE) itself. The selection of finalists will be based on the robots' ability to operate autonomously, navigate the course accurately while detecting and avoiding obstacles, and moving at militarily relevant rates of speed.
"A year ago, I would have been happy to see a robot travel one mile at the NQE," said DARPA Director Dr. Anthony Tether. "But we have seen a significant number of autonomous ground vehicles traverse a very tough 2.2-to-2.7 mile course more than once -- and in some cases, three times!"
Grand Challenge Program Manager Ron Kurjanowicz added, "We're going to surprise everybody on October 8, with a fiercely competitive field of worthy vehicles."
The Mojave Desert course begins and ends at Primm, Nev., and covers approximately 150 miles of dusty, bumpy desert roads, dry lake beds, and narrow mountain passes. The event begins at sunrise on October 8. The route will not be revealed to teams until two hours before the GCE begins.
DARPA selected 43 semifinalists to compete in the NQE after a year-long selection process that required teams to submit technical papers and videos, followed by site visits by DARPA technical experts to thoroughly evaluate the capability of each vehicle to autonomously navigate a narrow 200-meter course that contained turns and randomly placed obstacles.
"We established the Grand Challenge to help foster the development of autonomous vehicle technology that will some day help save the lives of Americans who are protecting our country on the battlefield," said Tether. "The quality of the field that is emerging offers strong evidence that our program is succeeding."
DARPA is the central research and development organization for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The agency manages research and development projects for the DoD and pursues research in technology areas where the risk can be very high, but success provides dramatic capability advances for the DoD. For more information, see www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge or www.grandchallenge.org.