Race Challenges Robots To One-Up Drivers

The federal government's next Grand Challenge contest will require robots to navigate through a city environment--and follow traffic laws as they go.
The next government-sponsored competition for autonomous robot cars aims to get unmanned vehicles to do something that plenty of drivers cannot: follow traffic laws.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced this week that the third Grand Challenge will take place Nov. 3, 2007, in a mock urban area. Vehicles will navigate around traffic, pass through busy intersections, and round traffic circles. They must travel a 60-mile course in less than six hours.

Stanley, the winning vehicle in Grand Challenge 2005, made history by avoiding obstacles and directing itself over a rugged 132-mile course through the Mojave Desert in less than seven hours.

"We believe the robotics community is ready to tackle vehicle operation inside city limits," Tony Tether, DARPA director, said in prepared statement.

DARPA, the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense, is credited with helping conceive the Internet. It holds the Grand Challenge to fulfill a congressional mandate and developing technologies for autonomous ground vehicles that can spare lives on the battlefield.

"Safe operation in traffic is essential to U.S. military plans to use autonomous ground vehicles to conduct important missions," DARPA announced in a statement that indicated the next competition will simulate a military supply mission.

DARPA will announce the location later.

Teams of engineers from companies, universities and elsewhere, are enthusiastic about the races. The team that places first will receive $2 million. The second prize will be $500,000 and the third prize will be $250,000.

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