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Princeton's Prospect 11

Princeton's Prospect 11

Princeton University's entrant into the DARPA Grand Challenge was surprisingly low-budget for such a prestigious institution. But Princeton doesn't have the same tech cache to defend as Carnegie Mellon University or Caltech. Princeton's team was made up of a handful of undergraduate and graduate students. I interviewed them in their garage at the qualifying rounds. Their car, the Prospect 11, is built on a GMC Canyon pickup, a vehicle that had been damaged in transport and was going to be scrapped by GM. The car was donated to the Princeton team instead, who set about building in drive-by-wire components, computers, GPS, and its only sensor, a stereo vision camera. A few weeks before the qualifying rounds, they had also gotten a hold of an inertial measurement unit, which meant they had very little time to integrate its information and test it. And a lot of the programming of these vehicles is done by trial and error; let the car run, and if it's about to hit an object, stop it and look at its sensor data and how the computer decided to respond.

The team members also clued me in to how they named the vehicle. Prospect is a street on the Princeton campus with 11 dinner clubs. A popular challenge is to stop for a beer in each club, making it more and more difficult to find your way the farther along you are. An autonomous vehicle could navigate the Prospect 11 for its happily inebriated passengers.