Off-road robots to battle it out

27 September 2005

Last year's unlucky competitor no.13

Tomorrow, 43 of the finest robot vehicles will duke it out in a contest that will leave only one winner. Well, actually, it's not Robot Wars, and in fact tomorrow will see the start of the elimination round not the final bout of the Darpa Grand Challenge, the second off-road racing challenge for vehicles that don't have drivers. And there will be 20 winners going through to the race proper. But it should be good anyway.

The IT Sneak blog sums up last year's race nicely:

In 2004 the hot favourite was a modified military Humvee called Sandstorm, built by Red Team Racing. This seven-feet-wide, two-tonne behemoth was sponsored by Intel among others and boasted four Itanium and eight Xeon processors. It got the furthest of all the entrants last year, covering a somewhat embarrassing 7.4 miles before getting itself wedged.
With lessons learned, this year promises a better race.

The race itself will be held on 8 October over a course that remains a closely guarded secret. A few facts are known: it will be in the Nevada desert, it will be between 140 and 175 miles long, and robots will have to complete the course in less than 10 hours to pick up the $2 million prize. has a great article tracking the fortunes of one of the last three teams to qualify for the knock-out round – out of an initial 195 entries. The prospects for this particular team are summed up by the name: Team Underdawg.

These aren't remote-control cars, which many people assume when they hear about the Darpa Grand Challenge. [The vehicles] must operate with no human involvement.

“It's really an amazing challenge and I think most people don't realise how difficult it is because everyone takes driving for granted,” said Jonathan Stark, the leader of Team Underdawg. “But trying to teach a computer to do it is very difficult.”

That's the least of the Blue Team's worries. While Underdawg only has to teach its Jeep Cherokee how to driver, Blue Team also has to teach its vehicle to balance. For reasons of masochism, it seems, the team has based its Ghostrider robot on a 125cc off-road motorcycle...

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