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DARPA doubles cash payout for second robot race

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Fresh off the failure of the first Grand Challenge robot race, DARPA has decided to double the prize money for a second event to be held next year.

DARPA quietly slipped word of the now $2m prize on the Grand Challenge web site. At present, the cash award is the only definite detail for the second running of the robots. DARPA is expected to begin rolling out more information on how long the course will be and how it might differ from the first Grand Challenge in the next few months.

The first Grand Challenge, held in March, made much more liberal use of the term "challenge" than "grand." Only a handful of the 15 robot vehicles that made it to the starting line in Barstow, California managed to travel more than one mile. The top distance went to the Red Team from Carnegie Mellon University which travelled a whopping 7.4 miles on the back of $3m in equipment.

These results fell well short of the 225 miles the vehicles needed to travel in under ten hours in order to win a $1m prize. The robot warriors use GPS, radar, laser radar and a host of other technologies to move without human aid.

Exactly why DARPA would up the prize money for the Grand Challenge is not clear. The contestants tend to fall into two categories - neither of which cares much about the cash prize. One group hopes to earn prestige as a robotics powerhouse and will spend well over what DARPA can offer on their vehicles. The other group how to show off their skills using a budget approach and then cash in later in the corporate world after their technology proves itself in the field.

In addition, DARPA already had more entries this year than it cared to deal with, so there is little need to drum up added interest. But, hey, military spending is all the rage these days, so why complain.

If you can't wait until next year to get your robot race fix, head over to the Robot City trade show in September. The IRRF (International Robot Racing Federation) will be holding its own $1m race open to competitors from around the globe. ®

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