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The Not-So-Great Robot Race

Discussion in 'Channel Zero' started by imported_El Mamerro, May 4, 2004.

  1. Full Backstory: THE GREAT ROBOT RACE

    Summary: Sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon's research arm, the Darpa Grand Challenge presented competitors with a monumental task: to get a robot to drive itself across the desert, when most of the drones the military uses today have a human piloting them from afar. It's a mission that's so far eluded the Defense Department's brightest minds and its biggest contractors.

    The challenge was in the form of a 210-mile race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, through a course whose waypoints were revealed to the teams only 2 hours prior to the start of the race. First one to Vegas within 10 hours would win a million bucks in cash courtesy of the Defense Department. The contest was open to anyone who wished to enter (and with enough money to build a robot Darpa deemed viable). The race took place on March 13, 2004...

    ...and here's what happened:

    BARSTOW, Calif. -- Looks like we won't be seeing any robot driver's licenses issued anytime soon. All 15 self-navigating vehicles in a 150-mile race across the Mojave Desert were knocked out within a few miles of the starting gate Saturday, victims of technical glitches, barbed-wire fences and rugged terrain.

    None could claim the $1 million prize offered by a military agency seeking to develop autonomous vehicles that could be used in combat.

    One of the early favorites, a military Humvee converted by Carnegie Mellon University students, managed to travel 7.4 miles before veering off course and snapping an axle during the race.

    "It was supposed to be challenging," said Jan Walker, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon agency that sponsored the race. "We knew it would be challenging. We're involved because it's a technology we really need to push forward." Officials foresee using computer-run, remote control-free robots to ferry supplies in war zones.

    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency spent $13 million on the Grand Challenge. It estimates competitors laid out a total of four to five times that amount developing their entries, which rely on global positioning satellites as well as a variety of sensors, lasers, radar and cameras to orient themselves and detect and avoid obstacles.

    Most of the vehicles Saturday made it less than a mile before stalling, overturning or running off course. One six-wheeled robot built by a Louisiana team was disqualified after it became entangled in barbed wire. Others crashed seconds after starting.

    "It's a tough challenge -- it's a grand challenge -- you can always bet that it's not doable," Ensco engineer Venkatesh Vasudevan said shortly after his company's entry rolled onto its side several hundred yards from the starting gate. "But if you don't push the limits, you can't learn."

    The Pentagon's research and development agency would have awarded $1 million to the first team whose microcircuit-studded vehicle could cover the course in less than 10 hours, but most involved in the race were skeptical that any vehicle entered would accomplish the mission.

    The teams were given a map of the course two hours before the start. It included hundreds of waypoints marked by precise coordinates. Team members were not allowed to steer or touch the robots.

    Carnegie Mellon's Humvee was the first to set out on the brush-and-boulder-dotted course just after dawn. It took off at a fast clip. Within 15 minutes, the vehicle dubbed Sandstorm had covered about seven miles over mostly flat desert, but it stalled near the tiny town of Daggett.

    The race was over in about four hours after the final competitors were disabled. Competitors suffered a variety of problems, including stuck brakes and malfunctioning satellite-navigation equipment.

    Virginia Tech's converted golf cart failed within 100 yards of the starting line when its brakes seized up. It was driven off the course by 23-year-old senior Nick Elder.

    "Our vehicle knew where to go, but our brakes were holding us back," said the disappointed Elder.

    Twenty-one teams attempted to qualify in trials earlier this week, but just seven completed a flat, 1.36-mile obstacle course at the California Speedway in Fontana, east of Los Angeles. Some teams were allowed to compete Saturday without finishing the obstacle course.

    The on- and off-road course, which began in Barstow, was to have ended just across the California line in Primm, Nev. With no entries finishing, the agency could host another contest, probably in 2006.

    One competitor said the goal wasn't necessarily to complete the race.

    "From my opinion, it's always been a question of how far you can get," said Palos Verdes High School sophomore Kevin Webb, 16. Their entry, a modified Acura SUV, hit a barrier shortly after crossing the starting line.

    The Failures:

    [b][color=black]Red Team 1986 Humvee[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 7.4 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] Vehicle veered off course in mountainous section, got stuck on berm. Rubber on front wheels caught fire.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “Code more driving logic into the software.”

    [b][color=black]SciAutonics II Dune Buggy[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 6.7 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] Lost GPS signal. Forgot there was a mountain between it and next checkpoint. Tried to drive through mountain.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “Go around mountains, not through them.”

    [b][color=black]Digital Auto Drive 2003 Toyota Tundra[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 6.0 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] Vehicle stopped for traffic before crossing road. Small rock became wedged beneath tire. Vehicle wouldn’t accelerate hard enough to roll over it.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “It’ll take us about an hour to teach the truck to step on it next time.”

    [b][color=black]Golem Group 1994 Ford F-150[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 5.2 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] Stalled while climbing its first major hill. Onboard computer didn’t give it enough gas.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “Get the debugging done before we show up in the desert.”

    [b][color=black]Team Caltech 1996 Chevy Tahoe SUV[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 1.3 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] Vehicle sensors may have mistaken shadow for boulder. Veered off road to avoid, broke through barbed-wire fence.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “If no forward motion is achieved, back up and try something else.”

    [b][color=black]Team TerraMax Six-wheel truck[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 1.2 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] Interpreted small bushes as enormous rocks and repeatedly backed away from them.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “Get new sensors that can distinguish between bush and rock.”

    [b][color=black]SciAutonics I Four-wheel ATV[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 0.8 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] Hit bump and hard drive failed, causing vehicle to stop making turns.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “Get solid state hard drives with no moving parts.”

    [b][color=black]Team Cimar 1993 Isuzu Trooper[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 0.5 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] Ran into some wire and got totally wrapped up in it.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “The computer will plan the route next time.”

    [b][color=black]Team Ensco Honda ATV[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 0.2 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] Sped too fast along course. Flipped at second turn.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “Go slower.”

    [b][color=black]Axion Racing 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 0.0 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] GPS went on fritz. Vehicle drove in circles in start area.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “Get a new GPS.”

    [b][color=black]Team CajunBot Six-wheel ATV[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 0.0 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] On-off switch located on side of vehicle. Bumped into a wall on way out of start area. Turned self off.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “Put the on-off switch somewhere else.”

    [b][color=black]Virginia Tech Modified golf cart[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 0.0 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] Brakes locked up in start area, forcing cart to rev engine. Vehicle started smoking and was removed from course.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “Wake up earlier and test the machine before the race starts.”

    [b][color=black]Palos Verdes High School 2003 Acura MDX SUV[/color][/b]

    [b]Distance Traveled:[/b] 0.0 miles

    [b]What Went Wrong:[/b] Software contained decimal point error. Slammed into 2-foot-tall cement barrier at 22 mph. During qualifying rounds, [url=http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,62608,00.html]this vehicle nearly killed the school principal[/url], who was watching from the sidelines.

    [b]Lesson Learned:[/b] “Just like NASA. Even the best make mistakes.”

  2. Poop Man Bob

    Poop Man Bob Dirty Dozen Crew

    Joined: Nov 16, 2000 Messages: 10,259 Likes Received: 18
    I prefer this robot:

    So the Humvee ended up winning with only 7.4 miles? I think the 210 miles was a bit of wishful thinking..
  3. Æ°

    Æ° Senior Member

    Joined: May 12, 2002 Messages: 1,974 Likes Received: 6
    That's one way to cut the cost of researching it themselves.
  4. <KEY3>

    <KEY3> Veteran Member

    Joined: Mar 24, 2004 Messages: 6,878 Likes Received: 2
    dont worry mams....
    The fighting robots will still destroy the humanoids with ease.

  5. SteveAustin

    SteveAustin Veteran Member

    Joined: Mar 12, 2002 Messages: 7,042 Likes Received: 2
  6. 23578

    23578 Elite Member

    Joined: Jul 2, 2000 Messages: 2,521 Likes Received: 0
    ha! that robot reminds me of someone, who was that again, hmmm. . .

    those stupid engineers, trying to do everything again.
  7. villain

    villain Veteran Member

    Joined: Jul 12, 2002 Messages: 5,190 Likes Received: 2
    The hardest part is the spatial awareness....