Saturday's DARPA Urban Challenge finalists trimmed to 11 teams
By Mike Hanlon
November 1, 2007
November 1, 2007 The finalists for Saturday’s landmark DARPA Urban Challenge were announced here today and the biggest surprise was that the final field was trimmed to just 11 starters, a decision taken by Grand Marshall and DARPA director Dr Tony Tether in the interests of securing a winner. “It’d be a great shame if one of the robots took out another robot,” said Tether as the final 11 contestants were announced. Most pointedly, Tether also introduced Team Tartan as the team that would be the Number One seed “if we were to give a ranking to the number one", before presenting the plate to Dr William “Red” Whittaker of Team Tartan (pictured).
Whittaker’s Carnegie Mellon University Team took out second and third places in the second DARPA Grand Challenge and if the bookies were fielding odds on this event, Team Tartan would be the odds on favorite after doing extraordinarily well in the qualifying event.
Most noticeably, the two leading teams from the previous event, Stanford Racing Team and Tartan Racing (Carnegie Melon) have taken on the distinct look of sophisticated NASCAR track racing teams with a leaderboard of major corporate sponsors adorning their vehicles, and thanks to the team’s General Motors relationship, the team now resides in the air-conditioned mobile pits which normally houses the Corvette Racing Racing Team. Corporate sponsors have been quick to recognize the importance of this event as a publicity machine, and the long-term historical importance of the event.
The final 11 teams have been selected as finalists to compete in the DARPA Urban Challenge Event on November 3 at the former George Air Force Base in Victorville, Calif. Selected from a field of 35 semi-finalists that participated in the National Qualification Event (NQE) this week (October 26-31), the final 11 will compete for cash prizes worth US$2 million for first, US$1 million for second, and US$500,000 for third place.
"The teams that competed in the NQE 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 Dr. Tony Tether. "Finalists were selected based on performance in the NQE tests as measured by data collected and evaluated by trained scorers in the testing areas. 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."
Teams competing in the Urban Challenge Event attempt to complete a complex 60-mile urban course with live traffic in less than six hours. The finalists will operate on the course roads with approximately 50 human-driven traffic vehicles. Speed is not the only factor in determining the winners, as vehicles must also meet the same standards required to pass the California DMV road test.
From the time each robotic vehicle leaves its starting chute and begins the course, it is entirely under control of its onboard mission computer - human observers may intervene only for purposes of safety. The entire field of robotic vehicles will be on the course at the same time, interacting with one another as vehicles in urban areas across America do each day. The vehicles will face driving challenges that include traffic circles, merges, four-way intersections, blocked roads, parking, passing slower moving vehicles, and merging safely with traffic on two- and four-lane roads.
"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," added Urban Challenge Program Manager Dr. Norman Whitaker. "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."
The Urban Challenge Event is open to spectators, and is expected to attract thousands of attendees and hundreds of media from all over the world. The competition's course and spectator areas at the former George Air Force Base are located at 18374 Phantom in Victorville, Calif. Grounds will be open to spectators starting at 6:00 AM PDT, and after an opening ceremony at 7:30 AM PDT, vehicles will begin to launch at 8:00 AM PDT.
Robotics enthusiasts who are unable to make it to Victorville can get a first-hand look at the action in a professionally hosted webcast starting at 7:30 AM PDT / 10:30 AM EDT that will feature views of the competition from a variety of camera positions. The webcast will be accessible via two event websites - www.darpa.mil and www.grandchallenge.org - that also will have regularly updated news, pictures and other content on the competition. Television stations can downlink a satellite feed with same day coverage of the competition on Saturday, November 3, 1:00-1:30 PM PDT / 4:00-4:30 PM EDT, Galaxy 17 KU, transponder 4, uplink frequency 14080-H, downlink frequency 11780-V.
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