Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

World's Wackiest Race; OVER 60 MILES OF URBAN HIGHWAY, ROBOCARS WILL TACKLE RUSH-HOUR WITHOUT A DRIVER IN SIGHT

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

World's Wackiest Race; OVER 60 MILES OF URBAN HIGHWAY, ROBOCARS WILL TACKLE RUSH-HOUR WITHOUT A DRIVER IN SIGHT

Article excerpt

Byline: DUNCAN GRAHAM-ROWE

RACES don't come wackier than this. Eleven cars in a 60-mile course through urban traffic and not a driver to be seen.

Welcome to the Urban Grand Challenge, the first driverless robotic car race to take on city traffic.

En route, the robotic vehicles will have to avoid other cars and pedestrians, observe red lights and stop signs, change lanes and merge with other traffic, all without getting so much as a scratch.

And yes, they will even have to pass that ultimate challenge of the modern motorised urban jungle - finding a space in a typical cramped car park.

The aim of the race is to push the limits in engineering and artificial intelligence, to encourage development of cars that are smart enough to drive themselves.

Cars are already appearing on the market that can detect pedestrians and carry out emergency stops. Some can now even park themselves.

But allowing us to take our hands off the steering wheel, sit back and enjoy the ride, still remains very much elusive.

Even the most die-hard driving enthusiast would be pushed to describe sitting in rush-hour traffic as thrilling. So given the choice most people would probably prefer to put their feet up and read the paper while the car does all the driving.

At least to begin with, that is precisely the kind of pace we can expect to see in this race. Each of these robo-racers will be expected to observe traffic regulations and avoid breaking any laws. It is no wonder they have six hours to complete the course - an average speed of 10 mph.

Rather than being organised by the car makers of the world, as you might expect, the race is being funded and organised by the same US government agency that created the internet and the global positioning systems now common in cars, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Of course, the US military couldn't give a stuff about making our drive to work any easier. It is more interested in developing unmanned ground vehicles to shuttle supplies to troops without risking lives and to reclaim the dead or wounded.

But car makers are watching. So, it is widely accepted that any technology developed by this race will trickle down into the cars that civilians drive.

In the race, 11 qualifying teams are due to take part, selected from more than 60 applicants. Each team, mainly made up of university research labs, has $1 million a year to develop their robotic cars before the race starts at an undisclosed location in America next November.

THE cars themselves are regular vehicles fitted with additional controls, motors and software to enable them to steer, accelerate, brake and even indicate. In addition, cameras, GPS receivers and laser range finders will be crammed in and a host of sensors will let the cars know which way they face and how steep the road is. …

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