Gearing up for the DARPA Grand Challenge

Fontana (CA) - Today 43 autonomous vehicle teams entered the qualifying round of the DARPA Grand Challenge. In the next tension filled week, the driverless vehicles must steer though a 2.2 mile course at the Fontana Speedway filled with speed bumps, parked cars and tank traps. The top twenty teams will start the 150 mile Grand Challenge event on Saturday October 8 and the winner will take home a $2 million cash prize.

Sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Grand Challenge race will be a 140 to 175 mile desert course that will start and stop in Primm, Nevada. Last year, the race was held in Barstow, California and proved to the world how difficult autonomous navigation was, with every vehicle becoming disabled just a few miles from the start line. You can read THG's coverage of last year's event here.

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A vehicle participating in the2005 DARPA Grand Challenge

Both private industry and education institutions are competing in the Grand Challenge. 17 teams are from Universities and there is even one team from a Southern California high school. DARPA, a military research agency, will use the technology from the race to make robotic battlefield vehicles to safely scout enemy territory, transport equipment and if necessary cause destruction. $2 million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but the amount of innovation shown by the teams in creating their vehicles and developing the software far outweighs the prize money. We don't know the exact amounts spent by the teams, but according to reliable sources, some teams have already spent millions of dollars.

All types of vehicles and operating systems are represented at the Grand Challenge. While Linux seems to be the favorite among contestants, Team Banzai from Irvine, California is fielding a 2004 VW Touareg running Mac OS X. Most of the vehicles are variants of commercial cars, pickup trucks or SUVs, but The Blue Team from Berkeley California stands out from the crowd with Ghostrider, an autonomous motorcycle.

Tom's Hardware Guide will be covering the qualification event at the Fontana Speedway and the Grand Challenge race in Primm, Nevada. Stay tuned to our website for race results, photos and videos.