The robots are coming, the robots are coming

Published 23 October 2006

DARPA’s Urban Challenge competition aims to promote the development of robotic cars (or “autonomous vehicle technology”) to be used in urban warfare, law enforcement, and first response; winners receive up to $1 million to develop their ideas; nearly 90 competitors have signed up

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s research arm, has every reason to be satisfied: Seventy-eight teams filed applications to compete as Track B teams for the DARPA Urban Challenge. The teams join the eleven Track A teams announced earlier and will compete for starting positions in DARPA’s robotic vehicle race, scheduled for 3 November 2007. “The first two Grand Challenges showed that tackling a formidable challenge is a reward in itself,” said DARPA director Dr. Tony Tether. “The outstanding response to Track B tells me there is great interest in taking on the very difficult technical challenge of developing unmanned ground vehicles that can operate safely in urban areas.”

Twenty of the twenty-three teams which competed in the 2005 Grand Challenge have returned. Research universities and engineering schools, automobile manufacturers and suppliers, and defense contractors are among the well-represented sectors in the 2007 field. Also, there is a notable international representation, including competitors from Australia, Austria, China, France, Germany, New Zealand, and Mexico. Teams have qualified to compete in the Urban Challenge in two tracks (Track A and Track B). Track A teams were selected from proposals submitted to DARPA and will receive up to $1 million in technology development funds. Track B was an open enrollment opportunity; teams do not receive any funds from DARPA but compete equally with Track A teams to qualify for the final event.

The Urban Challenge will feature fully autonomous ground vehicles conducting simulated military supply missions safely and effectively in a mock urban area. In the final event, on 3 November, at an undisclosed location in the western United States, robotic vehicles will attempt to complete a sixty-mile course through traffic in less than six hours, operating under their own computer-based control. To succeed, vehicles must obey traffic laws while merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections, and avoiding obstacles.

-read more at Urban Challenge Web site