Fifty-three teams are preparing for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Urban Challenge, a $2 million military-sponsored race of autonomous vehicles on city roads that's set for November 3.

The month of June is crucial for contestants because DARPA is making the rounds for so-called site visits, prequalification meetings in which the military's research and development arm plans to evaluate each team's viability to compete.

New to the DARPA Challenge this year, the Arizona team "A Bunch of Dropouts," (pictured here) is likely the only outfit running out of a remote 75-acre workshop powered by solar panels. It's also an easy bet that the Dropouts--named because they're led by now-grown high-school dropouts--will have the one and only race contender that's a 1941 Dodge Power Wagon painted like the American flag.

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Photo by: A Bunch of Dropouts / Caption by:
A picture inside Cornell University's Chevy Tahoe robot. The team's bias, or where it's overcompensating, is in the probability algorithms surrounding its Global Positioning System, thanks to a GPS failure that caused the team to run into a bridge in the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge.
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Photo by: Cornell University / Caption by:

After passing over the two previous DARPA competitions, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an academic stalwart in computer science and robotics, will try to play catch-up to race veterans like Stanford University this year, according to John Leonard, one of the team's leaders.

MIT joins the challenge with support from the university, Quanta Computer, Draper Laboratory and Ford Motor, which donated a Land Rover LR3 to the cause.

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Photo by: MIT / Caption by:
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