Urban Challenge 2007: A Tech Exec’s Reflections

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By Tim Oren 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 […]

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