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10/10/2005
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Stanford's Stanley Takes DARPA's $2 Million

The robotic vehicle made history on Saturday and defeated teams from 36 states and four foreign countries to win the Grand Challenge race.

Stanford University's robotic vehicle, Stanley, dominated a field of 195 unmanned vehicles and won a $2 million prize in the Grand Challenge race Saturday.

Stanley made history by becoming the first automated vehicle to travel a great distance at military speeds and defeating teams from 36 states and four foreign countries. Stanley finished a 132-mile course through the Mojave Desert in just under seven hours as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency call to design technology that can one day be to cover rough battlefield terrain.

DARPA, which is credited with conceiving the Internet, said the teams demonstrated huge leaps forward in robotics research and development. Stanley traveled an average of 19 mph after becoming one of only 23 unmanned vehicles to make it through qualifying events for participation in the final race.

Before the race in Nevada, Stanford had boasted on its Web site that its robot was the only one to completely avoid collisions in qualifying races. The team showed confidence in its ability to place first, noting that its Volkswagen Touareg R5 was called "brilliant" on CNN.

Two teams from Carnegie Mellon University followed close behind Stanley, taking second and third place. Acclaimed robotics professor and innovator, Dr. William "Red" Whittaker, led the Red teams.

He called automation "a huge movement," with applications in agriculture, trucking and a wide variety of other industries. During an interview before the race, Whittaker scanned the desert and said the race would be tough.

"It's a corner of the world that could eat some robots," he said. "It's such a different experience than taking the family car on paved highways. It's brutal, barbaric terrain out there."

Paul Perrone, CEO of Perrone robotics and member of Team Jefferson, said during an interview Monday that he wasn't sure exactly why his team's automated vehicle crashed at 60 mph in the qualifying event. Though the vehicle was rebuilt, the team wasn't able to recalibrate the steering. It listed to the right, unable to complete the final race.

Though DARPA hasn't given any official word on future races, Perrone said there are already rumors about the possibility.

"We don’t really know, because we're not the organizers, but there's a lot of momentum and good technology, good things going on," he said. "DARPA galvanized lot of folks."

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