Driverless HUMMERS Graduate From Pittsburgh Sites to Desert Driving

Byron SpiceTuesday, August 9, 2005

PITTSBURGH-Two robot HUMMERS, developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Red Team, have left campus and are heading west for the final push in their bid to win the DARPA Grand Challenge.

The robots Sandstorm and H1ghlander have mastered basic driving skills at strip mine sites, brownfields and racing tracks in southwestern Pennsylvania using only sensors and computers. They have surmounted challenges like following roads, changing lanes and avoiding obstacles.

Now, they're on their way to Carson City, Nev., where they will spend six weeks refining the skills, speeds and strategies needed to outperform the world's best non-human drivers in a punishing desert environment.The stint near Carson City is a prelude to tackling the Grand Challenge semifinals, which take place at the California Speedway at Fontana from September 26 to Oct. 6. Ultimately 20 of the 40 semifinalists will roll up to the starting gate at the Grand Challenge Oct. 8.

Prior to departure, each robot cruised a 200-mile road course, wound through a strip mine and ran an obstacle course. The test performances had highs and lows. One of the robots gained points with a brilliant, world-first, driverless passing maneuver, but the same machine ran itself out of fuel when it failed to switch to a full reserve tank.

Both robot HUMMERS have been modified with computers, lasers and electronics for autonomous control. "Although there are a million lines of good software behind the wheel, the robots still lack common sense," said William 'Red' Whittaker, robotics professor and Red Team leader.

"H1ghlander is the rookie machine sporting bold, new technology, but less than 1,000 miles of autonomous driving," Whittaker noted. "It has yet to achieve the peak performance and race-worthy reliability that come with long life. Alternately, Sandstorm is a crusty, 3,000-mile veteran that lacks technical elegance, but whose experience is enough to outrun H1ghlander ... for now. The unanswered question is whether either one has the right stuff to outrun the competition and stay the course on October 8. Test courses can't replicate the realities of driverless desert racing, but they are rites of passage for moving on to the next level of preparation."

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Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 |