October 5, 2006

C.U. Finalist for DARPA

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Cornell was one of ten teams chosen to participate in track A of the third Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Grand Challenge autonomous vehicle competition, DARPA announced this week.

“We’re really excited about getting the grant,” said Noah Zych ’06, leader of the vehicle team. “We’ll really be able to give our best effort to the competition this year.”

The team has been working on their proposal since the competition was announced in May and submitted it over the summer.

“We received more than 60 proposals from across the U.S. and the world, representing a broad array of backgrounds and technical approaches,” said Dr. Norman Whitaker, DARPA’s Urban Challenge program manager in a press release.

“We knew the competition would be stiff, but we’re very proud of the proposal we put together,” said Pete Moran ’06, project manager.

The Urban Challenge will simulate a mock urban military supply mission, in which fully autonomous ground vehicles will try to complete a 60-mile course through traffic in less than six hours. Vehicles must obey traffic laws, merge into moving traffic and avoid obstacles. The final event will occur Nov. 3, 2007.

“The challenge is really going to push technology,” Moran said.

DARPA established a two-track (A and B) system for teams to qualify. Track A teams will receive up to $1 million in technology development funds from DARPA. Track B teams, who will not receive any money from DARPA, will be announced later this month.

“The difference this year versus last year is that we have funding to do this,” said Brian Schimpf ’06, leader of the artificial intelligence team.

Last competition, teams had to find their own funding. Schimpf added that many of their decisions last year were driven by money, which was a problem for the team.

Six of the team’s ten core people from the last competition have returned, according to Schimpf.

“The biggest thing we’re bringing is the experience and knowledge,” Schimpf said. “We’re at the point now where we were six months before the competition last year.”

Unlike last competition, when the team consisted of about 40 members, they have cut themselves in size drastically to 13 members.

Other track A finalists include teams from the California Institute of Technology, MIT, Stanford, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Carnegie Melon University, Autonomous Solutions from Young Ward, Utah, the Golem Group, LLC from Santa Monica, Calif., Honeywell Aerospace Advanced Technology from Minneapolis, Minn., Oshkosh Truck Corp. from Oshkosh, Wis. and Raytheon from Tucson, Ariz.

Many of the teams are returning from last year’s competition, according to Zych, including Stanford, the winner, and CMU, which finished second.

“It’s a really tough competition, [but] we definitely think we can compete with the best teams out there,” Zych said.

DARPA is the Department of Defense’s central research and development organization.