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Feds pony up $3.5m for robot race

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After foraging through thousands of couches in Washington, the government has come up with $3.5m in prize money for the contestants in an upcoming robotic vehicle race.

DARPA - the gadgety arm of the Defense Department - today revealed that contestants in the 2007 Urban Challenge will receive prize money after all. New legislation had blocked the agency from offering cash awards as it had in the past two Challenge events. Now, however, Ken Krieg, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, has approved the payoffs.

The first place team stands to win $2m, followed by second place with $1m and third place with $500,000. The winning robotic vehicles must find their own way through a 60-mile urban course within 6 hours to stash the cash.

DARPA's Challenge events remain popular with the geek set.

Last year, a Stanford University team won the second running of the Grand Challenge by completing a 150-mile desert journey. Stanford's success helped redeem the Grand Challenge contest after a complete collapse by all participants during the first event in 2004.

The most successful teams have largely relied on hefty equipment donations from vendors and have produced vehicles that cost well over $1m. Still, the cash prize is a nice incentive.

The government takes the robotic vehicle contest very seriously as the US has set a mandate to have one-third of its military ground vehicles operate unmanned by 2015. The Feds turned to the Grand Challenge concept after military contractors were slow to show much progress with the technology. ®

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