“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)!

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

  1. November 21st, 2005 | 11:33 am

    I wonder how much credit he gave to Red Whittaker from the CMU Red Team in his talk. In it’s annual race, CMU was the team to go the farthest, although it was only 7 miles.

    I spoke with some partners on the team during my time at CMU and on the Red Team, and they said that a lot of the technologies are in the works to be implemented shortly. One thing that comes to mind is a coating device that was used to keep the sensors clean in the desert. This device would automatically shoot a specific coating substance on the lenses of the sensors and would automatically evaporate without leaving a trace.

    I know that Caterpillar and GM are already using some of the technologies developed on the Red Team Hummers in their vehicle lineups next year.

    It’s good to see that a great focus is made on civilian safety as a result of the race.


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