Primm, NV – Hundreds of amazed onlookers in Barstow, CA got a firstglimpse into the battlefield of the future as 15 robotic ground vehiclesattempted to navigate a rugged desert course. The vehicles were participatingin the DARPA Grand Challenge, in which the autonomous vehicle to mostquickly complete the route in less than the prescribed time would receive acash prize of $1 million.
The 142-mile course from Barstow to Primm, NV included well-traveledutility roads, switch-backs, severe elevation changes, blind turns and sheerdrops. Approximately three hours before the start of the event, participantswere given a CD containing the latitude and longitude of approximately 2000waypoints, and speed limits for various legs of the route.
The vehicles left the starting area every five to ten minutes as they began theirtest. By four hours into the event, it was clear that a number of vehicles werehaving difficulty at miles 5 to 7, the steepest and narrowest roads on the routeby that time, they had already completed seven turns in the first three miles.
“Today was a most important first step in a long journey,” said Dr. AnthonyTether, Director of DARPA. “Although none of the vehicles completed thecourse, and we were not able to award the cash prize, we learned a tremendousamount today about autonomous ground vehicle technology. Some vehiclesmade it seven miles, some made only one mile, but they all made it to theChallenge, and that in itself is a remarkable accomplishment.”
Competitors’ entries were unmanned, autonomous ground vehicles that couldnot be remotely driven. Boundaries defined the course, and vehicles that wentoutside of them would be disqualified. Each vehicle was followed on thecourse by a manned control vehicle equipped with an emergency stop systemto prevent unsafe situations.
These 15 teams, representing a wide variety of backgrounds, organizations andareas of the country, were selected after a week-long series of tests thatdetermined their ability to safely navigate and avoid obstacles while runningautonomously at California Speedway in Fontana.
“We have clearly sparked the enthusiasm and innovation that makes Americagreat,” remarked Col. Jose Negron, DARPA Grand Challenge ProgramManager. “This event has helped us make major strides advancing thetechnologies in the development of autonomous robotic ground vehicles. Weare extremely impressed that these teams made it as far as they did today oversuch difficult terrain, and we know that they will continue to work to perfecttheir vehicle systems.”
“The course that we put together was meant to be very challenging,” said SalFish CEO/President of SCORE International, which provided routedevelopment and logistics for the Challenge. “At the same time, we workedvery closely with the California and Nevada authorities to make sure it was assafe as possible for the spectators, judges and the environment.”
As part of this effort, DARPA’s 20 biologists charted all desert tortoiseburrows close to the route and placed protective pens around the burrows. Nopens or tortoises were disturbed during the Grand Challenge field test, and thepens are now being removed.
DARPA is the central research and development organization for the U.S.Department of Defense. The Agency manages and directs basic and appliedresearch and development projects for the Department of Defense, and pursuesresearch and technology where the risk and payoff are both very high andwhere success may provide dramatic advances for traditional military roles and missions.
For more information and photos from the week’s events, visit the official DARPAGrand Challenge website at http://www.grandchallenge.org.
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