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.
DARPA obviously thinks it’s doable, and has posted a second prize of US$500,000 and third prize of US$250,000. “Grand Challenge 2005 proved that autonomous ground vehicles can travel significant distances and reach their destination, just as you or I would drive from one city to the next,” said DARPA Director Dr. Tony Tether. “After the success of this event, we believe the robotics community is ready to tackle vehicle operation inside city limits.” To accelerate development of the autonomous ground vehicle technologies required for urban operations and to ensure the widest possible participation, DARPA offers two ways for teams to qualify and compete in the Urban Challenge. One way involves teams submitting a detailed proposal for up to US$1 million of technology development funds in response to a DARPA solicitation. The Government will obtain limited license rights to technologies developed using this funding. Applicants that do not submit a proposal or who are not selected to receive development funds may still compete in the Urban Challenge using the second track. The second track is similar to that used for Grand Challenge 2005: teams will submit applications and participate in a series of qualification activities. Each team that participates as a semi-finalist in the National Qualification Event (NQE) will be awarded $50,000. Each team that is successful at NQE will receive $100,000 and compete in the Urban Challenge final event. Participants from both tracks will come together at the NQE and progress on to the Urban Challenge final event, where the selected teams will compete for the top three prizes. Urban Challenge Participants Conference
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DARPA will hold an Urban Challenge Participants Conference, May 20, 2006, in Reston, Va. At the conference, DARPA will review all aspects of the program, including application and proposal processes, schedule, rules, and technical goals. Conference information and details on the planned conference webcast are available at www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge.
The DARPA Grand Challenge web site (www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge) is the primary resource for information about the Urban Challenge event and includes frequently asked questions, eligibility information and links to the solicitation.