Location, semifinalists set for urban robot race

DARPA announces the 36 semi-finalists that will compete in the Urban Grand Challenge, a robot race over mock city streets with a $3.5 million purse.

Less than three months from its qualifying race, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced Thursday the 36 semifinalists that will compete in the Urban Grand Challenge, a robot race over mock city streets with a $3.5 million purse. The semifinalists have been whittled down from 89 original contestants.

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DARPA also said that the qualifying and final events will be held at a military training facility in Victorville, Calif., home of the Route 66 Museum, the San Bernardino County Fair and a state penitentiary. The Urban Grand Challenge is the third in DARPA's series of robot car races and it's the first one the agency has pre-announced the location for months in advance of the final race. It typically keeps the location under wraps to prevent competitive advantage, but programming a car to navigate city streets by itself will presumably be hard enough.

Moving onto the qualifiers this year will be the Stanford Racing Team, who won the 2005 Grand Challenge with a modified Volkswagen SUV, and Team Oshkosh Truck, whose 16-ton Oshkosh Truck also finished the 2005 desert course but not within the allotted 10 hours. Team Gray, also a finalist in the Grand Challenge, qualified for the urban race, too, along with Tartan Racing, Carnegie Mellon University's team. CMU, known for its robotics pioneering and which was favored to win the 2005 race, is back this year with only one car, a modified Chevy Tahoe, instead of the two Hummers it raced two years ago.

Other semifinalists include Princeton University, MIT, University of Utah, Austin Robot Technology and Team Cornell, from Cornell University.

Only 20 teams will clear the qualifying rounds on October 24, to be held at the George Air Force Base. The robot winner of the November 3 finals will take home $2 million; second place will win $1 million; and third, $500,000. According to Tony Tether, director of DARPA, the robots must obey all California traffic laws without human intervention. So far, he's seen some sophisticated bots that may out-drive some people.

"The vehicles must perform as well as someone with a California driver's license," Tether said during a press conference Thursday. "The depth and quality of this year's field of competitors is a testimony to how far the technology has advanced."

 

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