Tuesday, November 06, 2007

DARPA's Grand Challenge

This year's DARPA Urban Challenge winners have been announced. They are :
  1. Tartan Racing, Pittsburgh
  2. Stanford Racing Team, Stanford
  3. Victor Tango, Blacksburg
For decades, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been funding scientific developments. For the last couple of years they are encouraging the development of automated automobiles by organizing a series of Grand Challenges. The first two editions needed the vehicles to navigate through desert terrain. This year's Challenge raised the bar by changing the environment. The 2007 Grand Challenge was called the Urban Challenge. DARPA required the automobiles to "obey traffic laws while merging into traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections and avoiding obstacles". DARPA noted that "The urban setting adds considerable complexity to the challenge faced by the robotic vehicles, and replicates the environment in which many of today’s battlefield missions are conducted".

This time three teams finished within the alloted time. The first team Tartan Racing driving a Chevy Tahoe bagged the $2 million. The second placed Stanford Racing Team which also won the second Desert Challenge, drove a Volkswagon Passat and pocketed $1 million. The third team, Victor Tango drove a Ford Escape Hybrid named Odin to win the $500,000 prize.

As expected, all the participating automobiles were filled to the brim with sophisticated laser sensors and state of the art radars to detect their surroundings. The AIs were powered using a lot of hardware and very high precision GPS systems. The 2nd placed Stanford Racing Team reportedly used 64 laser sensors to create a 3D map of its surroundings and was capable of tracking 32 individual obstacles.

With so many new technologies being put to use, it seems that DARPA plans to apply these technologies in the development of next generation combat vehicles and aircrafts.

Catch more about the challenge at the official Grand Challenge website. Catch some cool pictures of the cars in the Gallery.

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