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NEWS
DARPA Urban Challenge Semi-Finalists Announced
August 30, 2007

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has announced the 36 teams, including two Virginia teams, which have been selected as semi-finalists for the Urban Challenge. DARPA is the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense (DoD). The Agency manages and directs basic and applied research and development projects for DoD and pursues research and technology that provide dramatic advances in support of military missions.

The semi-finalists will next compete in the Urban Challenge National Qualification Event (NQE) scheduled for October 26-31, 2007. The top 20 teams from the NQE will move on to the Urban Challenge final event on November 3, and compete for cash prizes worth $2 million for first, $1 million for second, and $500,000 for third place.

DARPA also announced that both the Urban Challenge NQE and final event will take place at the urban military training facility located on the former George Air Force Base in Victorville, Calif. DARPA selected the location because its network of urban roads best simulate the type of terrain American forces operate in when deployed overseas. “The robotic vehicles will conduct simulated military supply missions at the site. This adds many of the elements these vehicles would face in operational environments,” explained Dr. Tether, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The Victorville site is currently used by the U.S. Army to train for urban operations. As soon as the Army finishes their training rotation, DARPA will conduct clean-up operations to ready the site for the competition. DARPA emphasized that as of today’s announcement, the site is closed until team arrival on October 24th. Photographs of the site and more information about the event are available at www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge.

At the NQE and the final event, the robots must operate entirely autonomously, without human intervention, and obey California traffic laws while performing maneuvers such as merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, and avoiding moving obstacles. Dr. Tether noted, “The vehicles must perform as well as someone with a California Driver’s License.”

DARPA conducted competitive site visits across the United States to select the semi-finalists. Dr. Tether told attendees at DARPATech that he was at a site visit and was surprised how well the team’s autonomous vehicle made it through an intersection with other cars, just as if there was a human driver in the vehicle. “The depth and quality of this year’s field of competitors is a testimony to how far the technology has advanced since the first Grand Challenge in 2004. DARPA thanks all the contestants for their hard work and dedication and congratulates the teams selected as semi-finalists,” Dr. Tether said.

The DARPA Urban Challenge is the third in a series of competitions DARPA has held to foster the development of autonomous robotic ground vehicle technology to save lives on the battlefield. Safe operation in traffic is essential to U.S. military plans to use autonomous ground vehicles to conduct important missions. DARPA will award cash prizes to the top three finishers that complete the course within the six-hour time limit.


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