road course near Barstow, CA
and invited 15 teams to
attempt to autonomously drive
the course with driverless
A $1 million prize was
offered for the winner, but the
farthest any vehicle managed
to travel was 7. 32 miles.
University’s Red Team’s entry
shown in Figure 1 made it the
farthest, however, no prize was
offered and some considered
the event a failure.
powers-that-be convinced the
government to allow them to
continue with competitions and the
next event in October 2005 had five
finishers on a 132 mile course near
the California/Nevada border.
The fifth finisher — a huge truck
called the TerraMax from Oshkosh
Truck Corporation — spent the night
parked and finished in 12 hours —
over the allowed time limit. The
winning Stanford University team’s
vehicle shown in Figure 2 finished in
six hours and 54 minutes.
Now, that is progress over the
first contest! We learned quite a bit
about autonomous cars from these
Jumping ahead two years in
November 2007, DARPA’s third
challenge was on a 60 mile closed
course at the former George Air Force
Base in Victorville, CA. The entrants
had to complete the course in less
than six hours — all while obeying
normal traffic rules and regulations,
dodging obstacles and other vehicles
randomly merging onto the course.
Carnegie Mellon’s Tartan racer
shown in Figure 3 won this contest
with a time of four hours and 10
minutes utilizing a modified Chevy
Going from a handful of vehicles
that ran into fences and fell off the
courses in the early contests to
supremely polished vehicles that
successfully traversed a simulated
urban road environment is another
great leap of progress!
These early DARPA Challenges
prove that the old adage “Try and try
again” can result in some
Challenge is Only
a First Step
The DARPA series of
challenges — from autonomous
cars that I mentioned earlier to
robots — was a very smart
approach for a government
Rather than paying bidding
companies a lot of money to
possibly develop a needed
technology solution, DARPA’s
approach was to specify what
technological challenge they needed
figured out and allow highly
competent groups to solve the
challenge with a contest.
The winner would ‘walk away’
with several million dollars and DARPA
would own the rights to a very nice
piece of technology. It was a win–win
scenario for all.
With the Japanese reactor
damage and resulting environmental
mess mentioned earlier clearly in
mind, DARPA set forth to develop the
DRC in hopes that talented groups
around the world would enter into a
friendly competition to develop a
robot that could enter and assist with
the cleanup of disaster areas such as
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Advances in robots and robotics over the years.
SERVO 09.2015 75
Figure 1. Carnegie Mellon’s Red Team covered the
greatest distance in the DARPA 2004 Challenge.
Figure 3. Carnegie Mellon’s Tartan Racing won
the 2007 Urban Challenge.
Figure 2. Stanford’s entrant won first place in the 2005 DARPA