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    Friday, September 30, 2005

    Cruise Control

    43 contestants are battling for a spot in a government-sponsored desert race to speed development of unmanned military combat vehicles. The Grand Challenge is sponsored by the research arm of the Pentagon known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which is spending $9 million on this year's event. Nice to know the pentagon again looks to creative minids outside the government. This year's may have the best results yet -- and the winner could collect $2 million. The robotic vehicles began Wednesday in qualifying rounds at the California Speedway. Half will advance to the October 8th Grand Challenge. The grueling, weeklong semifinals are designed to test the vehicles' ability to cover a roughly 2-mile stretch of the track without a human driver or remote control. Participants ranging from souped-up SUVs to military behemoths will be graded on how well they can self-drive on rough road, make sharp turns and avoid obstacles -- hay bales, trash cans, wrecked cars -- while relying on GPS navigation and sensors, radar, lasers and cameras that feed information to computers. Last year none of the competitors finished the race. This year 7 finished the semi-final course on the first try. My money is on the computer science nerd.
    mr. roboto drives




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