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Autonomous Vehicles

Volkswagen's Park Assist Vision system

Minor collisions as a result of parking mishaps are a common, costly and extremely frustrating occurrence and for several years auto manufacturers including BMW have indicated that solutions that take human error out of the equation are on the way. The latest news in the area comes from Volkswagen, which has demonstrated its “Park Assist Vision” system at this year’s Hanover Fair. The fully-automatic, remotely-operated self-parking system lets you get out of the car and watch as it backs itself into even the skinniest of perpendicular spaces, using cameras located in the left and right exterior mirrors to gauge the dimensions of the parking area available and communicate this information to the computerized steering and drive systems.  Read More

Team Tartan takes DARPA Urban Challenge win

November 4, 2007 The man-most-likely finally got to stand atop the victory dias in the DARPA Urban Challenge today when Tartan Racing’s Chevy Tahoe Boss gave Red Whittaker the victory everyone thought would be his in the 2005 Grand Challenge. Tartan Racing won the US$2 million prize for first, while Stanford Racing’s VW Junior won the $1 million second place prize, reversing the order from the last DARPA Challenge. Third was Team Victor Tango’s Odin. The event was a massive triumph for the educational system of Pennsylvania which provided the dominant winner of the event (from Carnegie Mellon) and the most ingenious and successful of the underfunded “Track B” teams which came from University of Pennsylvania and Lehigh University (Ben Franklin Racing Team).  Read More

Six teams finish the DARPA Urban Challenge

November 3, 2007 The DARPA Urban Challenge finished here this afternoon with an astounding six teams completing an array of missions over a demanding 60 mile urban course. The logical placegetters in the event were the first three to clear the course, quite some time ahead of the others - Junior (Stanford University's VW Passat), Boss (Carnegie Mellon's Chevrolet Tahoe) and Odin (Virginia Tech's Ford Escape hybrid). No winner has been named on the day, with DARPA due to announce the final placings tomorrow morning at 10am, though Tartan Racing’s Red Whittaker seemed very confident after the event after a completely clean run with no infringements or hiccups and a total time more than 20 minutes faster than the nearest competitor. The calm and confidence after the event did not reflect some of the issues the team experienced on the starting line  Read More

Dr. Red Whittaker 's Tartan Racing was the cleanest of the teams in the NQE.

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).  Read More

VW sensor-driven Passat for 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge

June 19, 2007 One of the world’s most unconventional car races gets underway on November 3 with the running of the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. A variety of teams will be entering their “smart” vehicles on a course covering 60 miles of simulated urban driving conditions – the aim being to post the fastest time while, of course, observing traffic regulations. This requires participating vehicles to merge into traffic, cross roundabouts and negotiate busy intersections – all without drivers or remote control - meaning that all cars will be navigated and driven by computers and sensors. Stanford won the last Grand Challenge using a VW base vehicle and one of the favorites for this year’s event is this customized Passat built by Volkswagen’s California-based Electronic Research Laboratory (ERL) with assistance from Stanford University.  Read More

The first energy-autonomous vehicle

October 2, 2006 There is no doubt that if you rated all the automotive companies in the world on their forward thinking and commitment to commercialising new concepts in sustainable mobility, Monaco-based Venturi would win by a country mile. The company which produced the world’s first available electric sportscar (see articles here here and here), recently announced it would partner with Intel to make energy sharing possible via the Venturi Fetish platform and now it has debuted the first energy-autonomous vehicle and despite its non-traditional appearance, production has already begun. The urban 3-seater electro-solar vehicle named the Eclectic goes well beyond anything previously offered by car manufacturers, being the first vehicle powered entirely by renewable energies, the first solar production vehicle and the first car that can be directly recharged with a personal wind turbine. A limited run of 200 vehicles will be available in June 2007 at a price of EUR24,000. The company is shooting for an even higher level of production from 2009 at an estimated base price of EUR15,000. Innovative and astonishing, Eclectic is much more than a simple vehicle ; it is a production and storage plant for renewable energies, either solar or wind based. Charging of these energies, which is intermittent in certain regions, can also be complemented by electrical recharging.  Read More

Motorsport without the driver

July 12, 2006 DARPA might have started something huge when it held the first Grand Challenge as a fledgling new sport has taken root - motorsport without the driver. That first race where the best vehicle only managed a few miles has now spawned the first race for robots, appropriately to be held at one of the birthplaces of American motorsport and the mountain that inspired Katharine Lee Bates famous poem, “America the Beautiful” – Pikes Peak. Pikes Peak has a 14,700 ft high summit with a 12.4 mile long access road rising 4710 feet through 156 corners, and annual races have been held there since 1916. Now the first Annual Autonomous Robot Race to the top of Pikes Peak will be held September 23, 2006. So far ten competitors have entered, most of whom will be recognised from their previous outings at DARPA GC I & II, though all comers are welcome. Team Axion made the trip to the 2006 Pikes Peak International Hillclimb (with drivers) last week and on the day after the race Spirit, Axion Racing’s autonomous Jeep Grand Cherokee, became the first unmanned vehicle to drive itself to the summit of Pikes Peak without human interaction or remote control. Spirit’s time of 47 minutes and 10.3 seconds was almost five times that of Kiwi Rod Millen’s record but as Axion Racing’s Team Leader Bill Kehaly explained, “we would have reached the top quicker, but Spirit kept having to apply brakes to stay back from slower human controlled vehicles.” “Our top speed is presently 25 miles per hour and we think we can break 30 minutes at this September’s inaugural Pikes Peak Robot Hill Climb.”  Read More

Grand Challenge winner talks autonomous robotic vehicles of the future

June 19, 2006 Those who had a passing interest in the DARPA Grand Challenge and the field of autonomous robotics will no doubt be interested to learn of AutoBlog’s recent article reporting on Dr. Sebastian Thrun's keynote presentation at the 2006 Sensors Expo. Thrun you may recall, was the project leader of Stanford University’s Volkswagen-based autonomous vehicle (aka Stanley) which won DARPA’s Grand Challenge for autonomous vehicles, hence ensuring himself a place in history. Apart from being director of Stanford's Artificial Intelligence Lab and Associate Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, we believe that robotics will become so ubiquitous one day, Thrun's work will be regarded as landmark in the same way that the Wright Brothers first flight is revered. Thrun openly discussed Stanley’s technology and even gets into the future of autonomous navigation on the roads.  Read More

DARPA Grand Challenge III – the urban UGV

May 3, 2006 We’re very excited this week about the prospects for Unmanned Ground Vehicles given the unveiling of Crusher and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announcing plans to hold its third Grand Challenge competition on November 3, 2007. The DARPA Urban Challenge 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. So rapidly have UGVs developed in the last few years thanks to Grand Challenges I & II, we suddenly see the prospect of unmanned vehicles being used in civilian occupations – a driver that never sleeps, obeys all the laws, costs a fraction of a human being’s time. Delivery robots make sense and within a few years our bet is that the technology will be in place. The winner gets far more than just US$2 million, as the leading contenders have found in previous events – the world will beat a path to your door if you can win Grand Challenge III. To win, you’ll need to have your UGV complete a 60-mile course through urban traffic under six hours. The UGV will need to be able to merge with traffic, read traffic signs, navigate roundabouts, busy intersections, avoid running over errant pedestrians, avoid obstacles – just like a normal automobile driver.  Read More

Crusher - futuristic Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle

May 2, 2006 Safeguarding the soldier is the key aim of the Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle – giving soldiers enhanced stand-off capability was the reason DARPA funded the Grand Challenge and backed up again two years later with the second challenge and is now holding the challenge in an urban area – such contests dramatically accelerated research into autonomous navigation and identified the most capable people to for the military to work with. The National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) is part of the Robotics Institute in Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science, unveiled Crusher last week. Carnegie Mellon vehicles finished a close second and third in the Grand Challenge though everyone knew they were at the bleeding edge of robotics knowledge, the Challenge just confirming it. Crusher demonstrates just what we can expect to see on the battlefield a decade from now. In what might well be seen as an offspring of the Grand Challenge, “Crusher” is a new breed of UGV – an NREC-designed, six-wheeled, all-wheel drive, hybrid electric, skid-steered, unmanned ground vehicle. The bohemoth weighs 14,000 pounds fully fueled, and is designed to carry a 3,000-pound payload – at this 17,000 pound total weight, two Crusher vehicles can be carried by a single C-130H aircraft and dropped into any region in the world. Once on the ground, Crusher can carry up to 8,000 pounds of payload without compromising its mobility – read that as 8000 pounds of smart stuff – any combination of cargo, armour, armaments, or surveillance equipment. Crusher is also designed to withstand extreme terrain, with the ability to take in its stride regular impacts with trees, boulders, fences, tree stumps and ditches at high speed. With six wheel independent drive, Crusher can go up and over almost anything, and if in the process it should get upside down, it moves its wheels to the other side of the vehicle and starts all over again. Crusher's hybrid electric system is silent, using a high-performance SAFT-built lithium ion battery module which delivers power to the six, in-wheel UQM traction motors located in the hub drive system of each wheel. Much, much, more … interesting stuff!  Read More

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