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Cash Prizes Lead Scientists to Solve Military Challenges

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2006 – DoD is offering cash to teams that can build a better robot.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will award millions of dollars in prize money to teams who win the Urban Challenge competition in 2007, John J. Young, the director of defense research and engineering, said today. The competition challenges teams to build independent robotic ground vehicles. The vehicles will simulate military supply missions in a mock urban area. Officials have not chosen where the competition will be held.

Competitions like this are important to DoD because they showcase new technologies and solutions, Young said. “They inspire scientists and engineers to work on challenges facing the Defense Department,” he said.

Such competitions also capture the imagination of the next generation of scientists and engineers. “The competition will hopefully encourage high school students to pursue math and science,” Young said. “It’s an important objective for the department. It’s not one that can be our day-to-day pursuit, but long term it is very important to us.”

The congressional action will allow the service research labs to harness all these benefits and sponsor other competitions. “There is a range of opportunities here,” Young said. “I brainstormed it with members of my team. We could have a challenge in the field of mine detection, we could have a competition on alternative energy sources, or energy efficient vehicles.

“We could have a competition on language and text translation,” he continued. “That’s a real issue we face right now; the range of languages we face is a problem.”

The final event of Urban Challenge will be Nov. 3, 2007. During the event, robotic vehicles will attempt to complete a 60-mile course through traffic in less than six hours, operating under their own computer-based control. To succeed, vehicles must obey traffic laws while merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections and avoiding obstacles.

The top three teams that complete the 60-mile course in less than six hours will receive trophies and cash prizes. First place will receive a $2 million prize; second is $500,000; and third, $250,000. Eighty-nine teams are involved in the competition.

Urban Challenge is an outgrowth of DARPA’s 2004 Grand Challenge, which sought a robot vehicle that could operate autonomously on-road and off-road. Teams from industry, colleges and high schools fielded vehicles for the event.

Young said Congress provided additional guidance on conducting prize competitions in the fiscal 2007 National Defense Authorization Act. “The Congress recognized the success of the DARPA Grand Challenge and provided the Defense Department the chance to expand the use of this tool beyond DARPA to service laboratories and agencies,” he said.

Contact Author

Biographies:
John J. Young

Related Sites:
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Related Articles:
DARPA Autonomous Vehicle Race Proves What's Possible



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