Unmanned vehicles race in urban setting to turn doubters into believers
By PATRICIA KIME, Seapower Correspondent
Meet the Competitors
Eleven vehicles made it to the finals of DARPA’s Urban Challenge.
They are listed below, in order of finish.
■ Boss, Tartan Racing, Chevy Tahoe
■ Junior, Stanford University, Volkswagen Passat
■ Odin, Victor Tango (Virginia Tech), Ford Escape Hybrid
■ Talos, MIT, Land Rover LR3 SUV
■ Little Ben, Ben Franklin Racing Team (University of Pennsylvania,
Lehigh University and Lockheed Martin), Toyota Prius
■ Skynet, Team Cornell, Chevy Tahoe
“We are looking at the problem
of protecting people,” Urban Challenge program manager Norman
To compete in the race, the
robots — mainly conventional
automobile chassis tricked out
with sensor, navigation packages
and computers — endured a series
of preliminary tests. They navigated roadways, parked, merged and
maneuvered through a narrow
course flanked by cars.
This past summer, 89 teams met
DARPA’s introductory standards for
the competition. The field later was
narrowed to 36 teams, which traveled to Victorville for the final qualifying rounds and the ultimate race.
“Vehicles competing in the Urban Challenge will have to think
like human drivers and continually
make split-second decisions to
avoid moving vehicles, including
robotic vehicles without drivers,”
Race organizers hoped 20 teams would qualify for the
final race on Nov. 4, but after reviewing preliminary qualification results only 11 were deemed safe enough to run
the course against other cars and one another.
“It would be terrible for one bot to take out another,” said Tony Tether, DARPA director.
The final competition tested the robots through
three primary missions and numerous smaller challenges, including navigating turns, dealing with
blocked roadways, negotiating traffic circles and handling four-way stops.
The vehicles also had to meet the same standards as
those required by the California Department of Motor
Vehicles to earn a license.
■ Knight Rider, Team University of Central Florida, Subaru Outback
■ XAV-250, Honeywell/Intelligent Vehicle Systems, Ford truck
■ TerraMax, Oshkosh Truck Corp., 13-ton military truck
■ Annie Way, Team Annieway (from Germany), Volkswagen Passat
■ Caroline, CarOLO (Institutes of the Braunschweig University of
Technology, Germany), Volkswagen Passat
Six robotic cars crossed the finish line Nov. 4 in
a 60-mile, Pentagon-sponsored road race
through a ghost town in Victorville, Calif.,
bringing the world a stride closer toward having automated highways and self-driving cars.
The contest, called the Urban Challenge and sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency (DARPA), brought together team-built robots
to compete on a closed city course complete with four-way stops, traffic merges and parking lots.
The goal of Urban Challenge was to advance the study
of autonomous vehicles and help meet a 2001 congressional mandate that one-third of the vehicles in the
U.S. armed forces be autonomous by 2015.