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11 finalists to hit the streets in DARPA's $2M Urban Challenge

Field of self-driven vehicles narrowed down this week from 35 semifinalists

November 1, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Out of 35 semifinalists, only 11 teams have qualified for DARPA's Urban Challenge, a 60-mile race between self-guided vehicles.

The race, slated to be held Saturday at the abandoned George Air Force Base in Victorville, Calif., pits the driverless cars against each other in a race that will challenge the vehicles and their self-guidance systems to find their way through 60 miles of urban streets, multiple lanes, traffic circles and four-way stops. The challenge calls on the teams of researchers -- academics from the likes of Stanford and Cornell universities, along with hobbyists and engineering professionals -- to match up their creativity and technical savvy.

The list of finalists, which was released Thursday afternoon, includes teams from Virginia Tech, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford.

"The teams that competed in the [National Qualification Event] were subjected to a series of rigorous tests to determine whether they were equipped to compete in the Urban Challenge final event," said DARPA Director Tony Tether in a written statement. "The NQE tested the vehicles capability to merge into traffic, navigate four-way intersections, respond to blocked roads, pass on-coming cars on narrow roads and keeping up with traffic on two- and four-lane roads. In fact, the only major difference between the NQE and the final event is that other robotic vehicles will be part of the traffic in the final event."

DARPA (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is sponsoring the race and offering a $2 million prize to the winner in an effort to get researchers developing technology for autonomous ground vehicles that could save lives on the battlefield, according to Jan Walker, a DARPA spokeswoman. She said that self-driven vehicles could be used for bomb-detonation tasks, in military convoys and for military reconnaissance missions.

The vehicles must accurately navigate a complicated course without human assistance. No one is in the car to turn the wheel, apply the brakes or figure out which way to go. The automobile must work its own way through the course, navigate around about 50 human-driven vehicles and do it within six hours.

Once each autonomous vehicles enters the course, it is solely under the control and guidance of its onboard mission computer.

"Vehicles competing in the Urban Challenge will have to think like human drivers and continually make split-second decisions to avoid moving vehicles, including robotic vehicles without drivers, and operate safely on the course," said Urban Challenge Program Manager Norman Whitaker, in a written statement. "The urban setting adds considerable complexity to the challenge faced by the robotic vehicles, and replicates the environments where many of today's military missions are conducted."

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