After DARPA's successful contest two years ago to have cars drive themselves in the desert, they have raised the stakes by moving it to an urban environment.
A robot racing team from Carnegie Mellon University beat out a rival from Stanford University over the weekend to win DARPA's Urban Challenge, a 60-mile race involving self-guided vehicles that were judged on both time and how well they performed.The winning car averaged 14 miles per hour, but I am curious how fast a human driven car could have driven it.
The Carnegie Mellon team, known as Tartan Racing, took home the US$2 million first prize, while the Stanford Racing Team grabbed a $1 million check for finishing second. Team Victor Tango, which was made up of faculty and students from Virginia Tech, received $500,000 for taking third place.
In all, 11 so-called autonomous vehicles raced at the abandoned George Air Force Base in Victorville, Calif., in the finals of the Urban Challenge, which pit the driverless cars against one another on a course that challenged the vehicles and their self-guidance systems to find their way through 60 miles of urban streets with multiple lanes, traffic circles and four-way stops.
The robot-powered cars had to accurately navigate the complicated course in less than six hours without human assistance while sharing the road with about 50 human-driven vehicles. No one was in the cars to turn the wheel, apply the brakes or figure out which way to go.
I believe that we will all have self driving cars some time in the not so distant future (definitely by 2050). DARPA's contests are a great way to make sure that this will happen as soon as possible.
Congress has mandated that one-third of military vehicles be unmanned by 2015. I don't know how feasible that is, but after this race I think it just could happen.
I am also curious as to what the adoption curve will be for self driving cars. Will it happen with passenger cars, where cruise control will just get better and better each year until the car can drive and park itself? Or maybe it will start with vehicles with a specialized job such as snow plows or moving coal and tar sands that will use this first. Since the military looks to be pushing this forward, I wonder which vehicles the are looking to make autonomous first? Whatever the path, I am excited that self-driving cars are starting to become a reality.