THe DARPA Urban Challenge was supposed to have 20 teams competing, but after the qualifying runs this week DARPA has judged that only 11 autonomous vehicles are safe enough to become finalists [via Danger Room, which has had excellent coverage of the Urban Challenge so far].
DARPA's top dog warns the media that the robotic vehicles in tomorrow's Urban Challenge race will be unpredictable and will quickly get “random”. “We really don’t know what they’re going to do,” said Dr. Tony Tether, but he assures everyone that safety will be the number one priority for both spectators and the crazy stunt car drivers who will get in the way of the robots.
As the qualification rounds came to a close, Dr. Tether personally inspected the runs to make a better determination of who would make it into the race. He recalls one scary incident where Team Lux's robot did a sudden U turn and accelerated towards the van that Dr. Tether was riding in. “That vehicle was coming straight at us… we were screaming pause pause!,” referring to the remote kill switch that officials carry during the race. Someone eventually hit the switch and killed the bot only a few feet away. “That reminded me, this was not a game,” Dr. Tether said.
Many teams are understandably upset at DARPA's decision to only pick 11 teams for the finals, but Dr. Tether assures that his trained staff had all the data necessary to make the tough choices. The initial cuts were for safety reasons because DARPA didn’t want bots to collide with other bots. Slower vehicles that would have caused traffic jams were the last ones to be eliminated.
Saturday's race could conceivably have all 11 robots on the course at the same time. Dr. Tether told us there will be staggered starts and the bots won't go to the same spot at the beginning.
I'll be in Victorville tomorrow, watching out for rogue carbots and marginal people.Posted by jjwiseman at November 02, 2007 03:16 PM