Feeds

DARPA figures out how to run a $2m robot race

Grand Improvement with revised rules

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The next step in data security

Hoping to make the $2m Grand Challenge live up to its name, DARPA officials have proposed a much more thorough set of qualification procedures and rules for the second running of the race.

DARPA on Monday released its outline for the Grand Challenge II robot race to be held in October of next year. Prospective contestants have been asked to provide their feedback on the rules, which is just one of the welcome changes to DARPA's methods this time around. DARPA has also set up a lengthy but precise qualification schedule to separate the robot gimps from the true contenders, hoping to avoid this year's Grand Challenge I flop.

"DARPA is committed to establishing rules that are easy to understand," said program manager Ron Kurjanowicz. "Feedback from the community is an important part of this process."

Competitors in this year's race thought the Grand Challenge I rules were easy enough to understand until DARPA began changing them late in 2003. DARPA was hit with a flood of last-minute entries in the first race that made it difficult for the agency to decide which teams qualified to compete in the event, which requires unmanned vehicles to race across the Mojave Desert.

In the end, DARPA made a controversial move to limit the field of contestants to around 25 teams that had submitted early papers outlining their vehicles' specifications. Many suggested this gave well-funded, well-publicized teams an advantage over smaller competitors.

For the 2005 race, DARPA has set up a stringent qualification process. Step one of this process requires teams to send in basic team information, a vehicle specification sheet and video demonstration by March. DARPA will then select the teams who qualify for an onsite visit. From there, DARPA will judge competitors' technical papers and then conduct a live qualification event in September.

These methods should up the level of competitors showing up for the race. In event earlier this year, only a handful of teams made it much past the start line with none of these teams making it more than 10 miles.

DARPA has kept the race distance fairly consistent, setting it at 175 miles. The vehicles will still need to pass over natural and manmade obstacles such as ditches, water, boulders, barbed wire and power line towers. The teams will also have to pass through narrow corridors. No vehicle can be larger than 10 feet in width and 9 feet high or weigh more than 20 tons.

Those familiar with the first race will recall that the vehicles are given a series of GPS points just moments before the race begins and must program these into their vehicles as a guide. The robots can use radar, laser radar and other sensing equipment to help guide them around obstacles. The first team to complete the course in under 10 hours wins the $2m prize - double the pay out from this year.

Congress gave DARPA the go ahead to offer a cash prize, hoping to spur innovation in the autonomous vehicle field. By 2015, the US must have one-third of all its vehicles operate unmanned, according a federal mandate. The Grand Challenge event was picked as one way to reach this goal quicker by finding interesting ideas lurking in small companies and universities. Large military contractors have been seen as too inefficient to create the technology needed for autonomous road vehicles.

It's amazing to see DARPA get its act together after largely flubbing the first race and angering many competitors. Many were surprised at how unprepared the agency appeared before and during the race. Hopefully, the competitors will also come to the desert with more gumption. ®

Related link

Grand Challenge web site

Related stories

Crash test dummies get date for DARPA Robot Run II
DARPA doubles cash payout for second robot race
Robot wars: One man's story of promotional monks and mechanical friendships
DARPA's Grand Challenge proves to be too grand
Final robot grunts picked for $1million DARPA race
Robot grunts tumble in race for $1m prize
$1 million Grand Challenge map leaked on Web
DARPA quells robot road rage
DARPA chisels little guy out of $1 million race
DARPA's indecision threatens integrity of $1 million race

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.