Victorville (CA) – In about 24 hours, robotic cars will be zooming around the former George Air Force Base in Victorville for the DARPA Urban Challenge and TG Daily will be covering the exciting event in force. For the next six days, 36 teams from across the country – and several from Germany – will compete for 20 spots in the actual race to be held on November 3rd.
The robotic cars must be able to navigate a city-like course without hitting obstacles and obeying all traffic signs. In fact, the DARPA rules say the cars have to follow California traffic laws and be entirely autonomous once the race starts. During the semi-finals starting tomorrow, teams will get several chances at completing the course and the best times will be ranked against other teams. We fully expect teams to work into the late hours of the night fixing software bugs and tuning the myriad of sensors on each vehicle – and we’ll be there to cover every moment.
We’ve loaded up our RV with video cameras, snacks (gotta have Pringles and Dorritos) and enough video editing hardware to render clips in faster than real time – quad-core Shuttle boxes baby ! Of course rendering video is one thing, but uploading clips in the Mojave Desert is pretty difficult. For that we’re counting on DARPA to provide a decent speed Internet link in the press area and if that fails we can get EVDO and T-Mobile Hotspot coverage at the local Starbucks a few miles away.
Three years ago, all the contestant vehicles at the first DARPA Grand Challenge desert race performed horribly often crashing within a few miles of the starting line. Since then the teams have learned greatly from their mistakes, first by completing the second Grand Challenge in 2005 and now with more than 36 teams in the semi-finals of the Urban Challenge.
The United States military is obviously pushing unmanned vehicles to get our soldiers out of harm’s way. By 2015, generals hope that one-third of all ground vehicles will be autonomous. So far the Air Force and other military branches have tested vehicles like the Packbot and Predator, but those “robots” aren’t truly autonomous and are remote controlled from several miles away. Unmanned aerial vehicles like the Predator are often controlled by satellite links from across the globe.
One interesting thing about this year’s competition is how PR savvy the teams have become. In the first two DARPA challenges only the well-funded teams had PR representatives, but we’ve already been bombarded with press releases from many of the Urban Challenge teams and it seems almost every team has hired outside public relations firms to help spread the word.
The opening ceremonies are set for 7 AM pacific time tomorrow and we’ll be there to bring you the latest information, pictures and video.