Nothing Human in This Race - InformationWeek

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10/14/2005
01:40 PM
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Nothing Human in This Race

Even though only one car could drive off the dusty 131.2-mile course with the $2 million prize in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's unmanned smart car Grand Challenge this month, the fact that five finished at all was a big improvement over last year, when no vehicle made it farther than eight miles.

Stanley, a modified Volkswagen Touareg R5 built by Stanford University and featuring six Pentium M laptop computers running custom artificial intelligence, completed the course in just under seven hours, averaging 19 mph.

Unmanned vehicles controlled by joysticks or other remote controls have been around for decades. What makes the Grand Challenge special is its requirement that vehicles use sensors and global positioning systems to detect and navigate around obstacles.


Autonomous Solutions' NaviGator placed 18th.

Autonomous Solutions' NaviGator placed 18th.
The competition also is helping spur development of sophisticated vehicle-based robotics. Autonomous Solutions Inc. has sold its automated-vehicle technology to Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which uses it during 24-hour tire testing. "We hope that the Darpa Grand Challenge will help us make better use of sensors, analyze the data collected by those sensors, and generate the algorithms necessary to get the robots to use that sensor data," says Sarah Gray, software engineering manager for Autonomous Solutions.

Unfortunately, Autonomous' entry, a modified dune buggy named NaviGator built in conjunction with students from the University of Florida's Center for Intelligent Machines and Robotics, traversed only 14 miles before ending its run. Good for 18th place, but much better than the half-mile it traveled before becoming tangled in barbed wire during the 2004 Grand Challenge.

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