Five robots finish DARPA racecourse

PRIMM, Nev., 10 Oct. 2005. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) today announced that five autonomous ground vehicles had successfully completed the DARPA Grand Challenge, a tough, 131.6-mile course in the Mojave Desert.

PRIMM, Nev., 10 Oct. 2005. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) today announced that five autonomous ground vehicles had successfully completed the DARPA Grand Challenge, a tough, 131.6-mile course in the Mojave Desert.

The vehicle that completed the course in the shortest amount of time was "Stanley," entered by Stanford University. The team wins the $2 million prize because it finished the entire course in the shortest elapsed time under 10 hours -- six hours, 53 minutes and 58 seconds (6:53:58).

Two vehicles entered by Carnegie-Mellon University, Red Team's "Sandstorm" (7:04:50) and Red Team Too's "H1ghlander" (7:14:00) finished close behind. For more information, see www.redteamracing.org.

The Gray Team's "KAT-5" finished at 7:30:16. Oshkosh Truck's 16-ton robot, TerraMax, also finished the course, although it was over the 10-hour limit.

The first four finishers entered the history books as being the first ground vehicle robots to travel a great distance at relatively high speed within a specified time frame. Stanley's average speed over the 131.6-mile desert course was 19.1 mph. Sandstorm averaged 18.6 mph, H1ghlander 18.2 mph, and KAT-5 17.5 mph.

Stanford's winning entry, Stanley, is built from a stock, diesel-powered Volkswagen Touareg R5 sport utility vehicle (SUV) modified with full-body skid plates and a reinforced front bumper.

It is actuated by a drive-by-wire system developed by Volkswagen's Electronics Research Laboratory, Auburn Hills, Mich. All processing takes place on six Intel Pentium M computers. It collects data with a sensor suite including global position system (GPS), inertial measurement unit, wheel speed, lasers, a camera, and a radar system. For more information, see www.stanfordracing.com.

In all, 23 autonomous vehicles went head-to-head over 130 miles of tough desert roads, mountain trails, dry lake beds and tunnels, using only onboard sensors and navigation equipment with no human assistance. These 23 vehicles were selected from a field of 195 teams through a series of qualifying races.

The results prove conclusively that autonomous ground vehicles can travel long distances over difficult terrain at militarily relevant rates of speed, DARPA leaders said.

"These vehicles haven't just achieved world records, they've made history," said DARPA Director Dr. Tony Tether. Pointing out that DARPA's mission is to accelerate the development of promising technologies, and then turn them over to others for the development of viable applications, Tether continued, "We have completed our mission here, and look forward to watching these exciting technologies take off."

DARPA Grand Challenge Program Manager Ron Kurjanowicz added, "The Grand Challenge stimulated the creation of a new community of innovators -- inventors, mechanics, computer scientists, engineers, and students -- who typically have not been involved in Defense-related activities. The camaraderie and competitiveness that have been the hallmark of the Grand Challenge since its inception demonstrates that America's heritage of ingenuity and resourcefulness is strong."

The 23 finalists were among 195 teams from 36 states and four foreign countries that filed applications to compete in DARPA's Grand Challenge. Over the past several months, these teams advanced to the final event by completing a series of rigorous tests designed to assess their capability of completing the desert course.

DARPA, based in Arlington, Va., 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.grandchallenge.org.

Edited by Ben Ames,
Senior Editor, Military & Aerospace Electronics

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