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

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

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."

Along with the first-place prize of $2 million, the second-place finisher will receive $500,000 and the team in third place will receive $250,000, according to DARPA.

The group of finalists includes:

• The Ben Franklin Racing Team, which is made up of students and faculty at the University of Pennsylvania and Lehigh University, along with engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp.

• The CarOLO Team, which includes members of five Institutes of the Braunschweig University of Technology in Germany.

• The Honeywell/Intelligent Vehicle Solutions team.

• The MIT team.

• The Stanford Racing Team from Sanford, Calif.

• The Tartan Racing team out of Carnegie Mellon University.

Team Cornell, out of Ithaca, N.Y.

• The Victor Tango team, which is made up of faculty and students at Virginia Tech.

Team AnnieWay, a spin-off of the Collaborative Research Center on Cognitive Automobiles. • Team Oshkosh Truck, a professional team out of Oshkosh Truck Corp., which manufacturers fire, emergency and military vehicles.

Team UCF is out of the University of Central Florida.

The race will begin at 8 a.m. PST Saturday. A webcast of the event can be viewed from this site and this site.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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