Feeds

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

Grand Improvement with revised rules

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
Volcanic eruption in Iceland triggers CODE RED aviation warning
Lava-spitting Bárðarbunga prompts action from Met Office
LOHAN Kickstarter push breaks TWELVE THOUSAND POUNDS
That's right, folks, you've stumped up OVER 9,000 beer tokens - and counting
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
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?