The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has selected 53 teams as semifinalists in its ongoing Urban Challenge robot contest.
Urban Challenge is the third in Darpa's series of contests designed to foster research into unmanned ground vehicles. In 2004, Darpa asked university and industry teams to design and build a vehicle that could traverse a 142-mile desert course. None of them made it more than a few miles. In 2005, four teams successfully completed a similar 132-mile desert course in less than 10 hours. Now, Darpa is asking researchers to design and build a car that can navigate busy, four-way intersections and traffic circles, merge into moving traffic and avoid obstacles. (Insert obvious joke here about how most humans can't do all these things).
Next month, Darpa will visit the research facilities of the 53 semifinalists to evaluate their ability to navigate a four-way intersection and moving traffic. Thirty teams will be selected to go on to the semifinals Oct. 21-31 and the big showdown is scheduled Nov. 3 at an as yet undisclosed location, where finalists will participate in a simulated military supply mission. Darpa will award $2 million, $1 million and $500,000 to the top three teams who complete the course in less than six hours.
The Stanford Racing Team, which won the $2 million top prize in the 2005 Grand Challenge with it's Stanley vehicle, is among the top 53 teams selected by Darpa to move forward in the Urban Challenge. Stanford's new vehicle is a modified Volkswagon Passat named Junior (pictured above).
--Catherine MacRae Hockmuth