Robots And Their Masters Ready For DARPA 'War Zone' Race - InformationWeek

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10/23/2006
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Robots And Their Masters Ready For DARPA 'War Zone' Race

The research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense is preparing to hold the race in an undisclosed mock urban U.S. location, testing robots' abilities to carry out simulated supply missions.

Almost 90 teams are preparing robotic vehicles to race through simulated military supply missions in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Urban Challenge.

The research arm of the U.S Department of Defense is holding the competition in a mock urban area at an undisclosed location in the western United States Nov. 3, 2007. Eighty-nine teams had enrolled by Oct. 18, 2006.

Autonomous vehicles will attempt to follow traffic rules while navigating through intersections, rounding traffic circles, avoiding obstacles and merging into traffic along a 60-mile route in less than six hours. The vehicles will be controlled by their own internal computer-based programs and on-board technology.

University researchers, engineering students and faculty, vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, and defense contractors plan to participate. The 2007 robotic vehicle race is expected to draw participants from Australia, Austria, China, France, Germany, New Zealand and Mexico. Teams are already at work, preparing technical papers and vehicles for preliminary competitions. Semifinalists will be announced Aug. 10, 2007.

"The depth and the quality of the field of competitors is a testimony to how far the technology has advanced since the first Grand Challenge in 2004," Norman Whitaker, DARPA's Urban Challenge program manager, said through a prepared statement. "The Urban Challenge will present a highly complex and demanding trial that will truly put this field of robotic vehicles to the test."

DARPA held the first Grand Challenge on a course between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in March 2004. None of the teams completed the course. The second Grand Challenge took place on the rugged terrain of the Mojave Desert in Nevada in October 2005. Several teams succeeded in completing the 131.6-mile run.

"The first two Grand Challenges showed that tackling a formidable challenge is a reward in itself," DARPA Director Tony Tether said through a prepared statement. "There is great interest in taking on the very difficult technical challenge of developing unmanned ground vehicles that can operate safely in urban areas."

Eleven teams selected after submitting proposals to DARPA will receive up to $1 million in technology development funds. The remaining competitors joined through an open enrollment. They will not receive DARPA funds but will compete with the other teams to qualify for the final event.

The competition encourages the development of technology for war zones. The Urban Challenge specifically will test the ability of robotic vehicles to safety operate in densely populated areas. First place winners receive $2 million. The team that places second earns $500,000 and third place contestants win $250,000.

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