Robocar Showdown in the Desert

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is sponsoring a $1 million prize for a 250-mile race this Saturday between driverless cars.

Driverless cars, sure to stymie road-ragers are heading for some surprising applications, and a big milestone this weekend.

On Saturday, March 13, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is sponsoring its Grand Challenge, an open-entry race between autonomous cars driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas within 10 hours for a $1 million prize. The vehicles entered in the race have to navigate 250 miles of desert terrain by following GPS waypoints.

Live updates and results will be available Saturday at

Whats on board in a driverless car?

These off-road vehicles typically have many on-board gadgets, including video cameras, radars, laser scanners, and GPS units. Many of the vehicles connect devices via Ethernet.

However, the Grand Challenge doesnt allow wireless communication, though other autonomous vehicle prototypes feature wireless networks.

The point of the race, however, isnt just to stage a technology stunt, but to prove that robotic cars can do important jobs—one of several new directions roboticists are taking.

As Chuck Thorpe, a Carnegie Mellon professor and leading expert on autonomous vehicles explained: "Its like the importance of Lindbergh flying over the Atlantic. He didnt have a new plane, engine, or navigation system, but he had the vision to put it all together and the guts to try it out."

Down the road, Thorpe sees myriad applications. The technology for driverless vehicles to, say, patrol the streets in Baghdad is ready. Search and rescue mobile vehicles with robotic snakes were almost shipped to Iran after the earthquake, but they didnt get visas.


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