The Stanford University team, sponsored by Intel, have won the DARPA Grand Challenge, according to the latest reports.
Their driverless car, named Stanley, was a heavily-modded Volkswagon SUV that would make even the most hardcore modders stop and admire. Boy, we'd love to see the Project Log of this one!
The DARPA challenge is, as the acronym might suggest, sponsored by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency - aka the Pentagon. A US congressional mandate states that a third of all US military vehicles should be unmanned by 2015. To this end, the Grand Challenge was set up last year to encourage top science and research outfits to pit their best driver-less cars against each other to see who can finish the 132 mile course, across the Mojave desert, in the quickest time.
Last year, none of the competitors got further than a few miles, with onboard computers generally going a bit bonkers. This year, 6 out of the 23 vehicles that competed finished, with Stanley doing the 132 miles in 7.5 hours. All three of the Intel-sponsored vehicles finished, as the chip-maker was delighted to tell us this morning.
Intel's man in Mojave, Brad Chen, said that there was some confusion as to exactly who had won. The cars left at staggered times, which meant they were racing against the clock, rather than each other. The cars were stopped at various points along the course for safe road passings and the like, so those times had to be subtracted. The top three cars finished within 10 minutes of each other on aggregated times, which made the whole thing very close. However, Stanley was eventually called as the winner.
The cars feature plenty of awesome technical equipment, with Stanley obviously sporting plenty of Intel-powered hardware to handle the computations onboard. It sports a 6-way Pentium M blade server, which is powered by the Volkswagon's alternator! They also avoid the use of hard discs for extra ruggedness, and the software that powers the car has been co-written by Intel's engineers. The Associated Press had this to say:
"The vehicles were tricked out with the latest sensors, lasers, cameras and radar that feed information to several onboard computers. This, in turn, helps vehicles make intelligent decisions such as distinguishing a dangerous boulder from a tumbleweed and calculating whether a chasm is too deep to cross.
Cornell University's military light strike vehicle traveled about 20 miles when it failed to across a bridge. Team members were trying to figure out what went wrong."
Intel told us that Stanley users lasers for close range navigation and guidance, but when the road 'opens up', it uses image processing to plot the best course through the desert.
This kind of stuff is great, isn't it? Cutting edge technology being applied to a real-life problem - and not only that, but the technology looks pretty sweet too. The modded vehicles are a sight to behold, although you possibly wouldn't want to go cruising in them.
Below, we've got some pictures of Stanley, in blue, and Carnegie Mellon's H1ghlander, in red, which is a modified Hummer.
What do you make of the news? Can you really see unmanned vehicles going into combat in the next 10 years? Let us know what you think over in the forums