Six teams managed to finish the 55-mile course at the Darpa Urban Challenge finals on Saturday, with CMU’s Tartan Racing taking the checkered flag and a $2 million grand prize. Teams fielded by Stanford and Virginia Tech finished second ($1 million) and third ($500,000), respectively. Wired has excellent coverage of the finals and the awards ceremony.
Rounding out the finishing group were Ben Frankling Racing, MIT and Cornell. The MIT and Cornell vehicles traded paint earlier in the finals, but both were able to finish after the teams were allowed to come in and separate the two.
While I normally tend towards reporting on the more sober details of the Urban Challenge, I have to admit that I couldn’t resist watching this video of Axion Racing’s Spirit unmanned vehicle crashing into a human-driven chase car. Reports indicate that there wasn’t too much damage to the driver, or to either of the vehicles. Nonetheless, events like this underscore the potential for mishaps in this high-tech endeavor. What’s really amazing is to watch a video like the one below, where Virginia Tech’s Victor Tango robot completes the merging task properly.
One of the interesting things that struck me as I was looking at the photos and videos from the National Qualifying Event is how many sponsor stickers there are on the vehicles. From Google to Red Bull, the Urban Challenge seems to be heading for a timespot on ESPN2, or at least TLC. Clearly, the marketers at the sponsor companies felt that the lead competitors, like CMU and Stanford, would be garnering their fair share of eyeballs. This AP article covers the commercialization of the Grand Challenge events, with the head of DARPA intimating that the high degree of sponsor interest may mean that it’s time for the organization to move on to less-well-funded research priorities.
Here’s a nice video clip from Tartan Racing, showing Boss, their Urban Challenge entry, doing an excellent job on the qualifying course. The road-following is a little unnerving at times, especially the in-camera footage. I still don’t think someone would mistake this for a human driver, but it’s still pretty impressive, especially when Boss rolls up to a stop sign and stops right on the line.
This past weekend saw the start of the qualification rounds for the 2007 Urban Challenge. While there’s a lot of day-to-day robotics engineering going on, much of the coverage in the news media has focused on the possibility for specatular robot-wars-style crashes. And, sure enough, Sting Racing complied by ramming its Porsche Cayenne into a barrier at an estimated 24 mph. This story in the Ventura County Star does a much better job of capturing the true goings-on.
We’re a little behind on our blogging here at darpagrandchallenge.com, but it’s worth noting that DARPA has announced the list of the thirty-six semifinalist teams (here), and also that the finals will be held on the grounds of the former George AFB in Victorville, CA. The competition site is apparently used as an urban battlefield training ground by the Army, so it sounds like a good fit, and it’s doubtful that the Urban Challenge vehicles will be able to do more damage than Army live-fire exercises.
I’m sure he meant it in all seriousness, but DARPA Director Tony Tether said of the competition, “The vehicles must perform as well as someone with a California Driver’s License.” Nothing against Golden State residents, but I’m not sure if that’s an adequate requirement for autonomous operation…
Meet Junior, Stanford’s entry into the 2007 Urban Challenge. Junior is a 2007 VW Passat. As you can see, Junior has already been festooned with sponsor logos — VW, Intel, Google, and, uh, Red Bull. Guess we know what’s keeping their programmers and engineers going through those late-night build sessions.
The official spec sheet explains the basics: platform and drive train by VW, high-resolution LIDAR for 3D imagery, a 6-way camera system, and an Applanix GPS set with 35 cm positional accuracy. Data processing is courtesy of an unspecified number of Intel Core 2 Duo processors. All this hardware probably draws some serious current — the specs mention that VW fitted a special prototype high-output alternator to keep everything well-fed.
Gizmag recently discussed the history of government-sponsored contests as a driving force for new technology innovation. The ancestor of today’s Grand Challenge was the prize awarded to John Harrison for developing a method for measuring longitude at sea. The prize was open for nearly 60 years; Harrison himself labored on the solution for more than 30. In a demonstration of how such a prize can produce benefits for everyday life, Harrison’s ultimate solution was … a pocket watch capable of keeping accurate time, something I’m sure we all can appreciate. You can read more about the longitude prize and Harrison’s work at the British National Maritime Museum site.
Reigning Grand Challenge champion Stanford has been getting the lion’s share of the Urban Challenge press, but there are lots of other teams out there working to win some recognition. This recent story shows how the Challenge is helping to spawn new ventures like Blacksburg’s TORC Technologies, who are earning their chops as sub-contractors for Virginia Tech’s robot team.