I, for one, welcome our robotic driving overlords  

Posted by doug

It didn't get much coverage outside of nerd circles (or maybe it did, I don't really travel outside of nerd circles) - but there was a most amazing race this past weekend. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, a unit of the Pentagon which is prettymuch responsible for the invention of the internet, held its almost annual Grand Challenge. This is a race, but not your typical NASCAR, let's drive in a circle and excite the natives race. This was a race without humans. Yeah, you read that right. Every vehicle in this race was entirely robotic. And not the cheap kind of robotic, where it's actually controlled by a human with a controller somewhere. Nope. These cars use GPS to figure out where they are, where they're going. They have sensors to avoid collisions and are painted in neutral gang colors in case they end up in the wrong 'hood.

When DARPA held it's first Grand Challenge in 2004, it was a 142 mile track in the middle of Ass End, California. They had it in the desert just in case a car developed intelligence and emotion, which if movies have anything to teach us, will make it dangerous. However, that didn't happen. Not much happened, actually. Not a single vehicle managed to finish the course. The next year, they held a very similar competition, only this time, several vehicles finished, including one built by a team from hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. Many people argued that driving in a lonely desert was a far cry from driving in an urban environment, with other cars, stop signs, and cheap gas station hot dogs. Well, those people can shut their filthy mouths, because that's been done. They held the 2007 race, the Urban Challenge, in an abandoned army base. They had human driven cars sprinkled around for the robots to deal with. They had stop signs and driveways and parked cars. And I'm sure it was amazing to watch these empty vehicles drive themselves around and stop at intersections with precision.

Flying cars? You can have 'em. I'd rather kick my feet up and read a magazine on my way to work everyday.

For more information, contact your local library, or just use these links:

Darpa.mil's Grand Challenge page
An episode of NOVA about the race
The obligatory Wikipedia entry, with much detail lovingly crafted by nerds like myself

This entry was posted on Monday, November 5, 2007 at Monday, November 05, 2007 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

1 rabid fans

Good job.

This was veeerrrry interesting. And just think of all the extra sleep...er reading you could get done on the morning commute!

November 5, 2007 at 2:40:00 PM CST

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