The challenge: build a robotic vehicle that can successfully navigate a (132 mile) course across the Mojave Desert in less than 10 hours without human intervention, selecting its route, staying on course, and avoiding a challenging set of obstacles placed in its way by the good people of DARPA.
I didn’t expect to be writing this article before 2010. In 2004, after all, nobody won – or even finished. In 2005, however, we have a winner. Four winners and five finishers, actually, though only the first place team collected the reward. Stanford/Volkswagen’s Tuareg “Stanley” beat out the Carnegie-Mellon University Red Team’s two Headless Hummers, and the Ford Escape Hybrid run by plucky New Orleans-based Team Gray. Oshkosh Truck’s huge TerraMax, meanwhile, used a slow-but-steady strategy until its last-leg sprint and finished in a little under 13 hours. So, why is this significant?
DARPA is a Pentagon agency, and they’ve become very interested in these capabilities because the US military is looking to field “MULEbots” that can carry cargo in the field around 2010-2015 as part of its ambitious Future Combat Systems program. Unsurprisingly, engineers from FCS lead integrators Boeing and SAIC played significant behind the scenes roles on a few of the winning contenders.
Smaller ground robots are already playing a large role in dealing with IEDs, tests are underway re: having small flying UAVs carried, launched from, landed on, and refueled by land robots, and South Korea says it has developed a quasi-robotic vehicle that will be able to reload mobile artillery without the danger of being shredded by shrapnel.
This is a military trend to watch, with a number of civilian spinoffs for aging societies. DID has covered ground robots in the past, and we’ll continue to do so.
There’s lots of good coverage and insights into the 2005 Grand Challenge on Slashdot, along with a very good liveblogged coverage of the race entire at TG Daily and an article by Popular Science.
and MDARS UGV
I’ll close with one more insightful point that should strike a chord with us all here at Defense Industry Daily. Over at Slashdot, Humankind704050 wrote:
“When you look at the results, and you see two colleges with virtually unlimited resources and millions of dollars spent on their vehicles, huge corporate sponsors and engineers at their beck and call from Boeing to Caterpillar, who finished, and then this dinky little Team Grey from a suburb of New Orleans, with a splintered development team as a result of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and they FINISHED just behind the big guys, leaving other heavily-funded vehicles in the dust.
Relatively speaking, a small indy group, even if their time was a tad slower than CMU or Stanford, essentially put those three teams to shame when you compare the resources they had available to them.”
Our hats go off to all the participants, but he has a good point. Team Gray must have some serious talent worth scouting.
Over at Winds of Change.NET, Marc Danziger once wrote “PowerPoint Is A Distraction: The Shining Kids of Carl Hayden High.” It’s about a team of high school students, some of whom were illegal immigrants, at the Marine Technology ROV championship. They beat all comers, including a MIT team, by designing an underwater robot that could record sonar pings and retrieve small objects. Marc wrote:
“This post is about the bottomless pool of human talent. And about the fact that it’s everywhere – sprouting up even when it’s not tended and nurtured as deeply as it should be in some places. People long to create, they long to make, they dream of improving the world. We just have to look, and be willing to see it. We need it. It’s this capital – the capital of imagination and work – that will sustain us and that we need to grow.”
The capital of imagination. To defend, protect… and grow. DID salutes all of our readers who are a part of that process, in many ways. It’s why many of us are so interested in events like the X-Prize and DARPA’s Grand Challenge. It’s also why many of us go to work – including those of us here at DID.