Motion, vision: DARPA Challenge teams advance; June safety assessment


Arlington , VA —Continuing to advance control engineering technologies such as motors, motion control, machine vision, advanced sensing, process control, and networking, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) says 53 of the initial 89 teams will move to the next stage in the selection process for DARPA’s Urban Challenge. In June, DARPA personnel will conduct U.S. site visit tests to assess the ability of each team’s autonomous vehicle to operate safely.

The 53 vehicles will be evaluated on their ability to navigate a test course that includes a four-way intersection and moving traffic, DARPA explained in a May 11 announcement. The June evaluation covers a subset of the abilities robots will require to complete the Urban Challenge course, including merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections, and avoiding obstacles. “We have seen a dramatic increase in vehicle capabilities since the first Grand Challenge,” observed DARPA director, Dr. Tony Tether, who adds: “The ingenuity and dedication of these teams and the growth of the community in this area are phenomenal.”

DARPA will use the site visit evaluation to select the top 30 teams that will participate in the National Qualification Event (NQE), Oct. 21-31. This list of semi-finalists and the location of the NQE and Urban Challenge will be announced on

Aug. 10, 2007. The DARPA Grand Challenge Web site lists teams selected for site visits with other updates related to Urban Challenge.

The Urban Challenge, set for November 3, 2007, will feature autonomous ground vehicles executing simulated military supply missions safely and effectively in a mock urban area. Safe operation in traffic is essential to U.S. military plans to use autonomous ground vehicles to conduct important missions and keep American personnel out of harm’s way. DARPA will award $2 million, $1 million and $500,000 awards to the top three finishers that complete the course within the six-hour time limit.

“We are requiring more and more complex behaviors at each stage of the competition,” says Dr. Norman Whitaker, Urban Challenge program manager. “Site visits will be the first real test with moving traffic.” The Urban Challenge is the third in a series of DARPA-sponsored competitions to foster the development of robotic ground vehicle technology without a human operator, designed for use on the battlefield.

The inaugural Grand Challenge was held in March 2004 over a 142-mile desert course. Fifteen autonomous ground vehicles attempted the course, but no vehicle finished. Only 19 months later, in October 2005 at the second Grand Challenge, four autonomous vehicles successfully completed a 132-mile desert route under the required 10-hour limit. DARPA awarded a $2 million prize to “Stanley” from Stanford University.

DARPA is the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense (DoD). The Agency manages and directs basic and applied research and development projects for DoD and pursues research and technology that provide dramatic advances in support of military missions.

Read more from Control Engineering on one team’s efforts on automated vehicles.


-- Edited by Mark T. Hoske , editor in chief, Control Engineering Weekly News
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