DARPA Urban Challenge 2007

Yesterday I watched the complete DARPA Urban Challenge through the whole 7 hours and it was worth the time (at least more interesting as some F1 races). Eleven Teams were qualified for the final race, six of them completed all three missions and all in good time. The goal for every bot was to finish the missions as fast as possible, drive without violating the Californian traffic rules and do not collide with any other bot or with any of the other 37 vehicles on the road. The course was very large, with trees and off-road sections, so the GPS has some problems, as well as with some unmapped streets. Every car gets its random generated missions 5 minutes before starting, so no team has known in advanced what to expect.
The first three cars had one thing in common: they drove really confident, especially the Standford car “Junior” which was not only the fastest one, it also drove absolutely perfect. The second one was, as in 2005, “The Boss” from Carnegie Mellon. The last three were also very interesting to watch: “Skynet” and “Little Ben” were very careful and “polite” drivers, they wait on every crossing until any other car has passed and Skynet was by far the best looking car. MIT’s “Talos” was very interesting to watch. They had more sensors and processing power attached to the car as everyone else, trying to process as much environmental data as possible which results in a very “spastic” driving because every 5 minutes the car was definitely not sure what to do. Talos was also the bully in this race, it collides with Team CarOLO and with Skynet, it also ignores most of the traffic rules (infect it drives like a teenager). But because this was MIT’s first participating in the race, it was a very good show.
The winner will be announced today but I thing “Junior” has made it.

So after the 2004 Grand Challenge then only one car droves 8 miles, now six cars succeed in urban environment. In three years it was possible for the technology to evolve very fast and if you think that at least Lexus now starts to build in robotic behavior into the cars (self parking functionality), it is reasonable that in ten years it is technically feasible to build very reliable robotic vehicles. Maybe this was the last challenge, but I think DARPA has shown what is technologically possible in very short time.

 UPDATE: OK, I was wrong. Dr. William “Red” Whittaker has made it this year with “The Boss”, his car wins the DARPA Urban challenge 2007, second is tis time Stanford. He was actually faster with an also perfect driving performance.


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