July 13, 2005 12:39 PM PDT

Robot Hummer hits milepost in driverless challenge

Whizzing around a 1.5-mile racetrack in a military-style Hummer for seven hours may not be hard, but try it without a driver.

Carnegie Mellon's Sandstorm--an artificially intelligent, robotic car with drive-by-wire modifications, GPS (Global Positioning System) and radar sensors, and remote control emergency safeguards--drove 200 miles, or 131 laps, autonomously last week. That's a milestone for the university's Red Team in the race to out-drive 39 other robotic vehicles and win the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, a desert race with a $2 million prize sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research arm of the U.S Department of Defense.

"That doesn't sound like a big deal for a human-driven car, but it is a very big deal for the pioneering of computer-driven vehicles," Red Team leader and Carnegie Mellon robotics professor Red Whittaker said Wednesday in a statement.

It certainly surpasses Sandstorm's performance last year during the first DARPA race. Sandstorm lost the challenge driving the fastest and farthest, making it only 7.3 miles on a 142-mile course before spinning its wheels. No team claimed the prize.

The 2005 contest, to be held Oct. 8 in a location yet to be disclosed in the Mojave Desert, is sure to prove difficult, despite advances from robotic leader Carnegie Mellon and other new contenders this year including Stanford University's Racing Team. DARPA recently told contestants that this year it would include artificial obstacles on the longer, 175-mile course.

Whittaker said that the recent test, at Pittsburgh's BeaveRun MotorSports Complex, helped the team learn that its hardware and software are reliable. The vehicle's exterior sensors help the car see the road and avoid obstacles, while the car's computers command the driving. During the test, the robot averaged 28 mph, with a top speed of 36 mph.

"Sandstorm ran a quick pace on this track, but the Mojave will not be so easy or forgiving. To finish first, you must first finish," Whittaker said.

Carnegie will also host another vehicle, the Hummer H1ghlander, in the semifinals, which take place Sept. 26 at the California Speedway at Fontana.

7 comments

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Robotic Hummer
What job will they replace next?
Posted by oconnmic (28 comments )
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President of The US?
:-)
Posted by (2 comments )
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High Schoolers Beat Them Last Year
The DARPA group from my son's high school, Palos Verdes High,
beat out Carnegie Mellon last year. There a number of groups
competing in the DARPA challange, including PV High once again. I
wonder why the story is devoid of reporting on the performance of
these other groups.
Posted by Greg Sparkman (82 comments )
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Because
I beleive thats because this vehicle is the heaviest, potentially fastest, and potentially most dangerous contender in the competition.

Therefore to have it sucessfully navigate a long distance at high speed without incident is noteworthy.

The story isnt about the DARPA Challenge and its contestants, its about the progress of the CMU team and their creation specifically.
Posted by Fray9 (547 comments )
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Beat them in what...?
I think the reason they werne't mentioned is that they weren't a serious competitor. I can't seem to find exactly what Palo Verdas beat CMU in. The DARPA website (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge04/media/final_data.pdf" target="_newWindow">http://www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge04/media/final_data.pdf</a>)
says for Carnegie Mellon:

&lt;&lt;Vehicle 22 - Red Team - At mile 7.4, on switchbacks in a mountainous section, vehicle
went off course, got caught on a berm and rubber on the front wheels caught fire, which
was quickly extinguished. Vehicle was command-disabled.&gt;&gt;

For Palo Verdes:

&lt;&lt;Vehicle 10 - Palos Verdes High School Road Warriors - Vehicle hit a wall in the start
area. Vehicle was removed from the course.&gt;&gt;

Further reading of this document puts nine groups ahead of Palo Verdes... Maybe you're thinking of another competition or I'm in error, but to blindly assert that Plao Verdes beat Carnegie Mellon seems very uninformed and misleading.
Posted by (1 comment )
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CMU Spent Enough To Get There
From what I have heard Carnegie Mellon has spent upwards of $5 million dollars on developing their vehicle, trying to win a $2 million prize. Other teams that are still in the competition have spent as little as $100,000. If they both cross the finish line, which one do you think the Army will be most interested in?
Posted by SleepyHollowUSA (3 comments )
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Thats what it takes..
The army wouldn't have to pay for development of the winning
system just the implementation. Why would the army spend the
same amount on development that's already been done? Your logic
is flawed.
Posted by montgomeryburns (109 comments )
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