Robot Cars Hit Sim City
Geek alert! Tomorrow (Saturday November 3) at 7:30 am PST, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will be webcasting their 2007 "Grand Challenge." This year, the 11 robotic cars leave the old Mojave Desert course for 60-miles of simulated streets– complete with 50 human-driven vehicles– to compete for AI bragging rights and a $2m top prize. While the resulting crashes won't be NASCAR-grade, and anyone who's seen Lexus' self-parking LS do its thing won't find the parking portion of the challenge particularly entertaining, and not even an America's Cup race lasts six hours, it's yet another landmark in the move towards automated automobiles. As former Car & Driver editor and TTAC contributor Stephan Wilkinson pointed-out on these e-pages many moons ago, the effort to remove driver control from the safety equation is beginning to assume the mantle of inevitability. Of course, that's not the driving force behind the DARPA deal. Their challenge is specifically designed to simulate military missions. Surveying the carnage caused by Improvised Explosive Devices on military transport in Iraq, Congress has decreed that a third of military ground vehicles must be unmanned by 2015. That said, there is a civilian spin: contestants must "meet the same standards required to pass the California DMV road test." It's a shame they didn't set the bar higher.