This article is a follow-on to the play-by-play discussion in “DARPA Urban Challenge 2007: George Town Races” that looked at events on the course. This article looks at everything that happened, and is likely to begin happening, outside of it.
Looking at the crowds at the 2007 Urban Challenge, you’d be forgiven for wondering if DARPA has touched off another of the famous side-effects from its research projects. The event was open and free to the public. While the teams and DARPA staff were present for the duration, the spectators came and went through the day, making it hard to judge the crowd. But I’d say at least a third and maybe half of the attendees were fans. Some seemed to have found a new kind of southern California entertainment: NASCAR for Nerds!
In reality, the goals of DARPA and the tastes of race fans are in conflict. Safety and reliability aren’t usually compatible with speed and risk. (There could be a future for autonomous bot races on the tube, however. Rumor had it that the presence of Discovery Channel talent indicated a forthcoming special or mini-series on the Urban Challenge.)
The Grand Challenges are like NASCAR in some important respects, however – and a few of them herald changes to the way we think about vehicle platforms, robotics, and more…
An Oct 24/07 report in Canada’s Globe & Mail claims that: “NATO plans to rent helicopters to resupply front lines and remote bases in southern Afghanistan – an unprecedented move that could reduce ground casualties even as it exposes the unwillingness of major European allies to send their choppers into dangerous, Taliban-infested areas.” Which may be partly explained by US Secretary of Defense Gates’ remarks, in a recent European speech:
“As it stands today, non-U.S. NATO nations have more than 2 million men and women in uniform, yet we struggle to maintain 23,000 non-U.S. troops in Afghanistan. This is partly a function of how NATO militaries are organized, and partly a matter of resources – but it is mostly a matter of will and commitment. The same is true for equipment and other resources. Consider that earlier this year the U.S. extended its Aviation Bridging Force in Afghanistan in Kandahar [DID: 20 CH-47 Chinook helicopters] because the mightiest and wealthiest military alliance in the history of the world was unable to produce 16 helicopters needed by the ISAF commander. Sixteen.”
While European defense budgets are low, this is a case of forces being available, but not provided by member states. Charters have already been used to try to fill some of those gaps, but this would be a new step…
General Dynamics Electric Boat Corporation in Groton, CT received a $148 million cost-plus-fixed-fee modification with performance incentives, under previously awarded contract N00024-05-C-2103, to exercise an option for continuation of engineering efforts associated with their role as lead construction yard for Virginia Class Submarines. The contract provides Lead (Construction) Yard engineering support that will maintain, update and support design and related drawings and data for each SSN-774 Virginia Class attack submarine, including technology insertion, throughout its construction and Post Shakedown Availability period. The contractor will also provide all engineering necessary for direct maintenance and support of Virginia Class ship specifications. Work on this contract will be performed in Groton, CT (94%); Quonset, RI (5%) and Newport, RI (1%), and is expected to be complete by September 2008. The Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington Navy Yard, D.C. issued the contract. General Dynamics release re: the Nov 2/07 modification.
The contract was initially awarded in October 2005, and a July 2007 General Dynamics release states that the contract will be worth $890 million if all options are exercised and funded. Previous awards have included:
VIVACE(Value Improvement through a Virtual Aeronautical Collaborative Enterprise) is a very large research & technology project funded by the European Commission that was launched in January 2004, grouping 63 companies and research institutions from the aerospace sector to improve 7 key areas of the product development process, providing solutions in “Design Simulation”, “Virtual Testing”, “Design Optimisation”, “Business and Supply Chain Modelling”, “Knowledge Management”, “Decision Support” and “Collaboration in the Extended and Virtual Enterprise”. By using the latest innovations in advanced simulation and modeling techniques, it hopes to provide the means to improve knowledge about the product prior to its physical development, reducing development costs, shortening time to market, and improving product quality.
If European aerospace firms can incorporate these advantages, the thinking goes, they will be in a better position to maintain their global competitiveness. By creating shared learnings among many companies, meanwhile, the research creates a common base of knowledge and practices among its participants, improving the odds that they will be on the same page managerially and technically as well. A level of commonality that is crucial, if the full gains of the research are intended to extend beyond any one firm’s supply chain.
Airbus has put out a release, stating its belief that its co-ordination of the VIVACE project has produced significant results. The final results of VIVACE were presented at a public Forum held in Toulouse from 17th to 19th October, and further background is available online as a 25 MB book.