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Would you like to drive a car?
November 2, 2007 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Perhaps you'll recall DARPA's Grand Challenge where autonomous vehicles competed in a off-road race but most barely made it off the starting blocks? And Grand Challenge 2 where they did the same thing more successfully and also filmed a NOVA special?. Well, they are doing it again, on city streets this time.
The teams will attempt to complete a complex 60-mile urban course with live traffic in less than six hours. The finalists will operate on the course roads with approximately 50 human-driven traffic vehicles. Speed is not the only factor in determining the winners, as vehicles must also meet the same standards required to pass the California DMV road test.
Some previews of the contestants including 2005's winner.
posted by DU (24 comments total)

 
MIT didn't enter either of the first two, but did enter the most recent one. As the presenter put it at the talk I went to "they finally made it hard enough for us".

Big words, but since they made the finalists' list with only a few months of work, maybe they can back it up.
posted by DU at 6:15 AM on November 2, 2007


Nice War Games reference. Brightened my morning.
posted by notsnot at 6:17 AM on November 2, 2007


Some robots have been kicked off the course because of bad behavior. Highlights from Wired's (excellent) defense blog Danger Room.
posted by shothotbot at 6:20 AM on November 2, 2007


Only 11 of the 20 possible finalists are competing. The rest couldn't handle the course or were considered too unsafe (read "likely to crash into another vehicle"), so MIT is certainly right about the "hard" part. Obviously no robot motorcycles this time around.
posted by tommasz at 6:20 AM on November 2, 2007


Ugh, Carnegie Mellon is a finalist again this year. That guy and his team really came off as assholes in the NOVA thing. Plus, while they were probably not cheating, they sure skated close to the wind by telling their car where to drive.
posted by DU at 6:25 AM on November 2, 2007


shothotbot, is there a way I can subscribe just to the Urban Challenge category of Wired's blog? I don't really care about defense issues but robot cars are awesome.
posted by DU at 6:34 AM on November 2, 2007


Don't know, DU, but the I posted should just be the Urban Challenge stuff.

But if you like robot cars don't you like drones too? or maybe lasers & ray guns?
posted by shothotbot at 6:39 AM on November 2, 2007


Competitions like this and the Ansari X Prize give me that warm, fuzzy feeling when you see humanity doing something socially productive and forward-thinking. But in this case I also get that queasy feeling when the defense arm of the US government researches new and ingenious ways to kill people. I need some antacid.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 6:59 AM on November 2, 2007


But in this case I also get that queasy feeling when the defense arm of the US government researches new and ingenious ways to kill people.

Thus it will always be while the technologists and scientists rush to whore themselves out to the would-be oligarchs and their enforcers.

As a scientist/engineer, this has always made me unhappy. Now, with the Neocon/Theocon wet dream in full bloom, it makes me despondent.

I can only dream of a general strike by all cultural creatives--starting with the IT people and the engineers. (Yeah, right...)

On the other hand, it's nothing new. Galileo wasn't studying projectile motion just for the hell of it, and da Vinci loved drawing his killing machines--they both loved to keep their power-hungry patrons happy.

Sigh.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:38 AM on November 2, 2007


To be fair, robotic navigation is a general problem that has no particular special attachment to war.
posted by DU at 8:01 AM on November 2, 2007


To be fair, robotic navigation is a general problem that has no particular special attachment to war.

I know what you mean, and I agree... to a point. But perhaps saying "no particular" attachment may be a bit of wishful thinking. That's why I'm talking about "whoring": the conversion of a beautiful form of creative expression and human interaction into a merely profit-making exercise in the context of an exploitative relationship.

To my engineer's eyes, robotic birds that can navigate the earth are just too cool--but I'm too old to be naive about why they are being funded.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:13 AM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


To my engineer's eyes, robotic birds that can navigate the earth are just too cool--but I'm too old to be naive about why they are being funded.

The Ministry of Defence is developing a prototype of Britain's first robotic bird.
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:20 AM on November 2, 2007


Well, let's put it this way. We'd be OK if Altruistic Organization funded the research, right? And then what if, after the entire concept was working, the military bought up a bunch of units off the shelf and went to war with them?

If it actually went the other way around, what's the real difference? Don't forget the Internet itself was a DARPA project...

(Doing research on actual weapons is a different story of course, and telling which is which is not always easy.)
posted by DU at 8:22 AM on November 2, 2007


Thanks for posting this! I really enjoyed the NOVA special and have been looking forward to the urban version. I hope it will be filmed and documented it in a similar way.

The CMU team in Grand Challenge 2 had what appeared to be a many different heuristic techniques designed for specific features of the course, and their frantic inputing of additional GPS data as the deadline approached just seemed wrong. Stamford, on the other hand, used a cleaner and more generic approach, and won the race. It felt like the contest's goals had been met.

This is interesting stuff, and it's a lot of fun to watch it happen.
posted by metric space at 8:33 AM on November 2, 2007


No parallel parking though. Too bad. There's something I could get behind automating.
posted by GuyZero at 9:10 AM on November 2, 2007


No parallel parking though. Too bad. There's something I could get behind automating.
posted by Partial Law at 9:46 AM on November 2, 2007


I always wondered what Adam Savage and Jaime Hyneman (Mythbusters) might be able to contribute to this project. They're definitely well-equipped enough to tackle such a challenge.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 10:06 AM on November 2, 2007


I've never seen any evidence that either of them know the first thing about programming. Not that they don't, I've just never seen the evidence.
posted by DU at 10:18 AM on November 2, 2007


I like Mythbusters, but there is little overlap between the skills used on that show and what's needed to compete here.
posted by metric space at 10:29 AM on November 2, 2007


DU -- the carnegie mellon guys in the NOVA program did what the military does, plan their route to the finest detail. I agree, this is not as cool as having the software capable of determining the right places to go.

TV -- I believe that the US needs a military for defense, and if we are going to have a military, I'd like it to be one that has the advantage whenever possible. I don't agree with what president Bush has done with the military, nor do I like all the politics behind military contracts, but that doesn't mean I think we shouldn't have one at all.
posted by garlic at 11:28 AM on November 2, 2007


Self-driven cars will be on our roads by 2020 or so at this rate.

Impressively the US military program that is going for similar objectives, namely autonomously driven Stryker or FCS vehicles is actually ahead of schedule. They'd been looking for a 2015 introduction into service, but due to successful trials there is now talk of these things going into service earlier.

The implications for cities are enormous. A large part of determining the layout of cities is handling transport needs. If parking could be moved and spread out with cars things could be made much better. Also, sharing cars would become a real possibility. Taxis without drivers would be much cheaper to run, and people could own their own car and let it work for others during the day.

For the elderly, it should mean a huge increase in mobility. For the young too.

All in all, this is a huge change that you can see coming. It's awesome.
posted by sien at 8:54 PM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


...robotic navigation is a general problem that has no particular special attachment to war.

From shothotbot's Wired — Danger Room link:
The Pentagon wants robots to drive convoys in Iraq.
Put a uniformed talking head in the driver's seat and insurgents might waste more ammo, too.
posted by cenoxo at 9:21 PM on November 2, 2007


DU: "Ugh, Carnegie Mellon is a finalist again this year. That guy and his team really came off as assholes in the NOVA thing. Plus, while they were probably not cheating, they sure skated close to the wind by telling their car where to drive."

Sorry DU, CMU kicked butt and won first place. Yay, go Tartans!
posted by octothorpe at 3:00 PM on November 4, 2007


I just saw the news myself and was coming here to break it. Hope they are checking the team for performance-enhancing cheating.
posted by DU at 6:05 PM on November 4, 2007


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