Quark Soup: The Great Race

Meet Bob: a 1996 Chevy Tahoe learning to drive. Bob is one of 25
robots undergoing preliminary testing for the DARPA Grand
Challenge, a 200 mile robot race conceived by the Pentagon.
Responding to a congressional mandate that by 2015 one-third of
ground combat vehicles should operate autonomously, DARPA (Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency) has been dispersing million of
dollars amongst military contractors and university departments to
research driverless vehicles, but so far, no breakthroughs.

The DARPA Grand Challenge (DGC) is the latest appeal for bright
ideas. Offering one million dollars and bragging rights, the race
welcomes mom-and-pop types into the running, along with ‘robotics
researchers, industrial engineers, high school students, hot
rodders, and battle-bot builders.’ Supposedly, each of the 25
groups that has passed the qualifying trials has a fair shot at the
prize, but a front runner has prematurely emerged: The Red Team,
based out of Carnegie Mellon, boasts more expertise and better
funding than any of its competitors. Their costly expenditures
include $725,000 on the vehicle itself, a military Humvee loaded
with hardware donated by companies like Space Imaging, a satellite
company that has offered over $200,000 worth of techno-goodies.

The vehicles that make it through the Qualifying Inspection and
Demonstration round will meet for the final race at the Slash X
Caf? in Barstow, California on March 13 to cover 200 miles of
mostly dirt roads between Barstow and Las Vegas. Information about
the exact route will be withheld from participants until two hours
before the race, at which time they will receive a CD with the GPS
coordinates that mark the course. During the race, participants are
to have no contact with their vehicles, and vehicles that stray
beyond a 10 foot corridor will be immediately disqualified.
Andi McDaniel

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Soup: The Great Race

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