DARPA narrows Urban Challenge field

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has selected 53 teams that will advance to the next round of its robotic-vehicle competition.

The agency's ongoing vehicle challenges are intended to encourage the development of robotic ground vehicles that can operate autonomously on the battlefield, reducing the risk to military personnel, according to DARPA.

In the upcoming round of competition, vehicles will take part in the event's first challenge, requiring them to operate in traffic. During the round, DARPA will conduct site visits around the country to evaluate the safety performance of the 53 qualifying vehicles on a test course that will feature moving traffic and a four-way intersection.

Based on the site visits, DARPA will pick 30 semifinalists to take part in the National Qualification Event scheduled for Oct. 21-31. The agency will announce the 30 semifinalist teams, as well as the location chosen for the event, on Aug. 10. On that date, DARPA also will announce the location for the final contest, a one-day battle on Nov. 3 called the Urban Challenge.

Vehicles will be required to complete a test course designed to simulate the challenges of conducting military supply missions in an urban environment. The course will require vehicles to steer around obstacles, maneuver successfully through traffic circles and merge safely into moving traffic. The top three vehicles completing the course within six hours will win DARPA prizes of $2 million, $1 million and $500,000, according to the agency.

This year's event is DARPA's third robotic-vehicle challenge. Fifteen vehicles competed in the first contest in March 2004, but none completed the 142-mile desert course. In the second competition in October 2005, four vehicles completed a 132-mile desert course within the 10-hour limit. DARPA awarded a $2 million prize to the 2005 winning vehicle, an entrant from Stanford University named 'Stanley.'

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