Monday, August 6, 2007

The robot car racings

"The robot drove very well today," said Mike Montemerlo, the team's technical leader. "We have reason to be optimistic," said Sebastian Thrun, the team's leader. Both work at Stanford's School of Engineering.

The robot car, a Volkswagen Passat wagon named Junior, was asked to follow a preassigned course, obey stop signs, negotiate intersections with other traffic and go around stopped cars.

It does all this without any human involved -- it's not a remote-control car -- instead relying on position and orientation sensors, Lidar sensors, GPS signals and hardware and software to keep on course, steer, accelerate, brake and turn.

The site visit was held for representatives of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, in a parking lot at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. The agency's goal is to be able to use more unmanned vehicles in ground combat.

They had allotted four hours to complete the tasks, but Junior was able to do it in about 2 1/2 hours.

Agency representatives will visit 53 teams to see how their robots perform. In August, DARPA will announce which 30 vehicles will move to a qualifying event in October. It's expected that about 20 vehicles will compete in the DARPA Urban Challenge race in November.

Two other teams with Bay Area connections, car Team Orange and the Berkeley-Sydney Team, will get site visits later this month.

DARPA staged its first Grand Challenge, a desert race, in 2004, but no team completed the rigorous course. In 2005, five teams did, and Stanford's sport-utility named Stanley did it the fastest and won the top prize, $2 million.

This time, DARPA is staging an Urban car Challenge, where vehicles must navigate through streets, parking lots, intersections and human-occupied vehicles instead of around sagebrush and cactuses. Prizes of $2 million, $1 million and $500,000 will be awarded to the top three finishers.
Today's event was held adjacent to Google's Mountain View campus, and Thrun said he expected many employees to come over to watch the robot cars this afternoon.

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