Washington (DC) - The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced its third annual robot race, the DARPA Urban Challenge - or as some are calling it, "Grand Challenge 3." While the first two races had autonomous vehicles kicking up dust in the desert, this race will have vehicles drive through a mock city and merging into moving traffic. The top prize for the fastest vehicle to complete the 60-mile course in less than 6 hours will be a cool $2 million dollars. Participants can also compete for government research funding.
The Urban Challenge race will be held on 3 November 2007. As with the previous two competitions, qualifying events will be held in the month preceding the race. Information made available by DARPA yesterday treats the matter a bit like a top-secret government project, vaguely stating the race will be held in the Western United States. We can assume this means California, because vehicle safety equipment and markings must conform to California standards as stated in the official rules.
Vehicles will have to detect stationary and moving obstacles while driving forward and in reverse. They also have to negotiate intersections and obey lane markings and signal lights. To add further complication, vehicles must be able to merge into moving traffic.
Unlike the previous races, the Urban Challenge will have two different tracks with different prizes. The first is where participants have a chance to win up to $1 million in development funds, but the government then gets limited rights to use the technology.
The second track has participants competing for no-strings attached prizes of $2 million for first place, $500,000 for second place and $250,000 for third place. In addition, participants get $50,000 for making it to the qualifying event and $100,000 for completing it. This is a significant change because many teams from the last two competitions burned through significant resources just sending 30+ people and their vehicles to the Fontana Speedway qualifying event. Team CyberRider, who competed in last year's Grand Challenge 2, was personally funded by team leader Ivar Schoenmeyr.
|Stanford University's drive to victory in Grand Challenge 2005|
Last year's 132-mile Grand Challenge 2005 course was completed by four vehicles from Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, and The Gray Team from Louisiana. Stanford won first prize with their Volkswagen Touareg. That year, TG Daily published a series of ten articles featuring team interviews, the qualifications and even blogged the Grand Challenge race. In the first Grand Challenge race none of the vehicles finished and several partipants couldn't even exit the starting area.