Stanford grabs DARPA Grand Challenge purse

Stanford University has claimed the $2 million prize for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Grand Challenge autonomous vehicle race. Stanford's vehicle, nicknamed 'Stanley,' guided itself across a 131-mile course using off-the-shelf computer and sensing equipment.

Of the 23 finalists in Saturday's race, four vehicles passed the finish line within the 10-hour time limit.

'These vehicles haven't just achieved world records, they've made history,' said DARPA Director Tony Tether. Once set into motion, the vehicles had to find their own way across the finish line without drivers or remote-control operation.

The Defense Department's research funding agency held the challenge to advance the science of vehicle self-guidance. DOD wants to spur technologies that would allow vehicles, such as supply trucks, to self-navigate over long distances. The course stretched across some of the most treacherous portions of the Mojave Desert, emulating the terrain that military vehicles may have to traverse.

In the race, DARPA would reward the team whose vehicle covered the terrain in the shortest time. Stanley, a modified Volkswagen Touareg, took the prize, finishing the course in six hours, 53 minutes and 58 seconds; it averaged 19.1 mph. Six Pentium M processors powered the onboard navigation unit. The vehicle sensed its surroundings with a Global Positioning System satellite receiver and an inertial measurement unit.

Four other vehicles also completed the course, some more quickly than others. Two Carnegie-Mellon University HMMV vehicles finished the run in a little more than seven hours. A modified Ford Escape Hybrid from the Gray Team, a partnership of Gray and Co. of Metairie, La., and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, finished at seven-and-a-half hours. TerraMax, a 16-ton tactical vehicle from Oshkosh Truck Corp. of Oshkosh, Wis., lumbered across the finish line in about 12 hours.

The results of this year's race showed a remarkable improvement over last year's challenge, in which none of the vehicles got further than a few miles from the starting gate.

'When the Wright Brothers flew their little plane, they proved it could be done,' Tether said. 'And just as aviation 'took off' after those achievements, so will the very exciting and promising robotics technologies displayed here today.'

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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