“Michael, are you sure you want to do that?”

Pull over Kitt – you’ve just been lapped.

On Monday November 14th I attended a presentation by Sebastian Thrun, an AI researcher at Stanford U. whose team recently won the Darpa Grand Challenge.

The idea behind the Grand Challenge is to accomplish something that seems impossible, along the lines of crossing the Atlantic, the X-prize, etc. Darpa had previously funded cars that drive themselves, but after numerous failures decided to turn the task into a contest and see how far teams would get in a competitive setting. Last year none of the entrants managed to finish the course, but this year 5 finished, 4 within the alloted time.

The difference between last year and this year was primarily improvements in software, not hardware. In fact, once the software has been developed, outfitting a car with the necessary equipment to drive itself (the perceptual apparatus – laser, radar, and video guidance, the gps, the inertial motion systems, the general purpose computing servers, and the fly-by-wire control systems), were estimated by Sebastian to cost the robots are already here (some of them killer)!

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