Gentlemen, start your autonomous vehicles. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) yesterday revealed the 36 teams whose robotic vehicles will compete in the agency’s Urban Challenge.
The Urban Challenge will send the autonomous vehicles through a mock city environment. They’ll have just six hours to make it through a 60-mile course, all the while executing simulated military supply missions. They’ll have to do so without any human input, including remote controls. Instead, they’ll navigate the course using only their sensor arrays and sophisticated control software.
Unlike DARPA’s previous autonomous vehicle contests, held in 2004 and 2005, the Urban Challenge vehicles will have to interact with moving traffic, traffic circles, busy intersections and miscellaneous moving obstacles. “The vehicles must perform as well as someone with a California driver’s license,” says Dr. Tony Tether, DARPA’s director.
Speaking at the agency’s annual technology symposium, DARPATech 2007, Tether also announced that the Urban Challenge will take place at the urban military training facility located in Victorville, CA, on the former George Airforce base.
The 36 teams will first participate in a qualifying event scheduled for Oct 26-31, 2007. The best 20 teams from that qualifying round will go on to the Urban Challenge finals on November 3.
Big cash prizes are on the line—$2 million for first, $1 million for second and $500,000 for third. But bringing home the money won’t be easy. Tether notes that the 2004 competition didn’t have a winner at all. And this year’s challenge is even tougher, thanks in part to its moving traffic and obstacles.
Still, Tether has seen some of Urban Challenge autonomous vehicles in action. And these early looks left him “convinced that the prize could be paid this year.”
A webcast of Tether’s remarks during DARPATech 2007 can be viewed here.