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DARPA Grand Challenge: A Battle of Wits

Illustration for article titled DARPA Grand Challenge: A Battle of Wits

[Jalopnik's desert stringer Curtis Walker is following the DARPA Grand Challenge, an annual race of autonomous ground vehicles, with a serious case of the techies. We'll have his reports today on the National Qualifying Event semifinals, like this one, as soon as he can type them into his digital audio-visual receipt and transmission unit. - ed.] Among the numerous newcomers to this year's DARPA competition, Massachusetts Institute of Technology seems poised to win the imaginary award for most gizmotastically outfitted. Armed with a cool million in seed money for development, team MIT went all out with the sensors and CPUs. All told, they've got 11 Sick Lidars (Light Detection and Ranging) units, five optical cameras, 15 Delphi long-range radars, GPS and a 40-core supercomputer to run them. All this power comes at a price in the form of electricity required and heat generated. To address this, they installed a 6kW generator and a 2kW roof mounted AC unit. Perhaps even more impressive is that the 100,000 or so lines of code running on the system were all written for this event. [Next: Team Lux, and gallery.]

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Illustration for article titled DARPA Grand Challenge: A Battle of Wits

At the flip side of MIT's absurdly outfitted LandRover is team Lux's Volkswagen Passat, a joint venture between German supplier of automotive sensors Ibeo and parent company Sick. Hands-down winner of the nonexistent prize for stealthiest install, their diesel grocery-getter has a mere three sensors; one on each corner up front, mounted behind black Plexiglas in the bumper and a prototype model mounted in the center of the read bumper. Data from these units is collected and processed by four computers in the trunk. Even the actuators for steering and velocity are stealthily mounted. Apart from the big honkin' kill switches on the read windows, one might miss the fact that it's a robot car at all.

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It's hard to pick favorites in an event like this, and looking at this brief comparison shows why. Despite their differences, both vehicles did well in Saturday's qualifying runs. [DARPA Grand Challenge]

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DISCUSSION

jwilly48519-old
JWilly48519

@Novaload: Ummm, misunderstanding of the design goal. This technology, in a several-generations-further version of course, will be the basis for a new family of supply delivery trucks. Not the high end of military action, but the low end...the behind-the-scenes delivery convoys through potentially hot urban areas where it really makes no sense to expose human drivers to IEDs. All such trucks intentionally will be readily recognizable for what they are. It's militarily desirable for the bad guys to know the trucks are robotic. It may not make sense for the bad guys to spend their $$ on ordnance to kill a truck...they know that in the end, they can't make us run out of hardware. So far, it's been easy for them to score psychological points on us by taking out a human truck crew. The design intent is to eliminate that way of scoring on us.