Institute for Personal Robots in Education Blog

Is a robot car in your future?

Imagine this:

You get ready to go to work in the morning, go into your garage, open the door, pick up the newspaper from the driveway, get in the car, and say:

"Take me to work."

The car backs out of your driveway, on the road and heads toward work. You're sitting in the back seat (no driver in front!) reading the paper.

On the STOP sign near your block, you say:

"Stop by the Starbucks on the way"

The car goes into a Starbucks, you go in, get your favorite latte, hop back in, and off you go!

Couple weeks back I went over to U-Penn to watch the DARPA Urban Challenge Race being live webcast from Victorville, CA. There were about 60-70 people in the room (we had to move to a bigger room!) watching the events unfold. Lots of loud cheering each time Penn's entry (Little Ben) was shown on the screen. 5-10 minutes into the race, Little Ben ran into a snag: it just came to a halt trying to take a left turn onto a major road. DARPA had to stop all the other cars for 5-10 minutes. The commentators wondered out loud if that was the end of Little Ben. Half the people in the room walked out dejected.

For those who stayed, they witnessed Little Ben revive itself back on the road and about 5 hours later finish a smooth run of the entire course. It was one of the 6 robotic cars that finished the final 60 mile run that started out as nearly 90 cars in qualifiers, of which 36 were selected for semi-finals and later an additional 19 were disqualified from the finals.

The objective, repeatedly mentioned by the commentators was that DARPA was exploring the feasibility and development of unmanned ground vehicles for possible use in warfare.

Only 6 six cars completed the 60-mile course. Actually, one should say, 6 cars finished the course, wow!

If you watched the low-rez webcast closely, you'd notice lots of swerving or kerning on the road, vehicles getting stuck at random times and a few bumps here and there.

Carnegie Mellon+GM's entry Titan came in 1st place, followed by Stanford's Junior, and Virginia Tech.

I love the idea of a robot

Mon, 2009-03-16 19:36

I love the idea of a robot car but would have reservations about purchasing one at any point in the near future. I have enough trouble getting my "regular" non-robot cars to work reliably - the folks at Murrays garage in Orono Maine were stumped by the electronic marvels in my 1982 Subaru BRAT. I just think the computer systems would be way too complicated for the average mechanic to understand. Perhaps we should start by inventing robot mechanics first - THEN start inventing robot cars.
- Kurt Schickle, robot in disguise

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