The DARPA Grand Challenge is a prize competition for driverless vehicles, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the most prominent research organization of the United States Department of Defense. Congress has authorized DARPA to award cash prizes to further DARPA’s mission to sponsor revolutionary, high-payoff research that bridges the gap between fundamental discoveries and military use. DARPA has technologies needed to create the first fully autonomous ground vehicles capable of completing a substantial off-road course within a limited time. The third event, The DARPA Urban Challenge, which took place on November 3, 2007 and was broadcast via webcast, further advanced vehicle requirements to include autonomous operation in a mock urban environment.
History and Background
See also: History of driverless cars
Fully autonomous vehicles have been an international pursuit for many years, from endeavors in Japan (starting in 1977), Germany (Ernst Dickmanns and VaMP), Italy (the ARGO Project), the European Union (EUREKA Prometheus Project), the United States of America, and other countries.
The Grand Challenge was the first long distance competition for driverless cars in the world; other research efforts in the field of Driverless cars take a more traditional commercial or academic approach. The U.S. Congress authorized DARPA to offer prize money ($1 million) for the first Grand Challenge to facilitate robotic development, with the ultimate goal of making one-third of ground military forces autonomous by 2015. Following the 2004 event, Dr. Tony Tether, the director of DARPA, announced that the prize money had been increased to $2 million for the next event, which was claimed on October 9, 2005. The first, second and third places in the 2007 Urban Challenge received $2 million, $1 million, and $500,000, respectively.
The competition was open to teams and organizations from around the world, as long as there were at least one U.S. citizen on the roster. Teams have participated from high schools, universities, businesses and other organizations. More than 100 teams registered in the first year, bringing a wide variety of technological skills to the race. In the second year, 195 teams from 36 US states and 4 foreign countries entered the race.
2004 Grand Challenge
DARPA Grand Challenge (2004)
The first competition of the DARPA Grand Challenge was held on March 13, 2004 in the Mojave Desert region of the United States, along a 150-mile (240 km) route that follows along the path of Interstate 15 from just before Barstow, California to just past the California-Nevada border in Primm. None of the robot vehicles finished the route. Carnegie Mellon University's Red Team traveled the farthest distance, completing 11.78 km (7.36 miles) of the course. The red team won that year.
2005 Grand Challenge
DARPA Grand Challenge (2005)
Stanley, the winner of the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge
The second competition of the DARPA Grand Challenge began at 6:40am on October 8, 2005. All but one of the 23 finalists in the 2005 race surpassed the 11.78 km (7.36 mile) distance completed by the best vehicle in the 2004 race. Five vehicles successfully completed the race:
Vehicle Team Name Team Home Time Taken
Stanley Stanford Racing Team Stanford University, Palo Alto, California 6:54 First place
Sandstorm Red Team Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 7:05 Second place
H1ghlander Red Team Too 7:14 Third place
Kat-5 Team Gray The Gray Insurance Company, Metairie, Louisiana 7:30 Fourth place
TerraMax Team TerraMax Oshkosh Truck Corporation, Oshkosh, Wisconsin 12:51 Over 10 hour limit, fifth place
Vehicles in the 2005 race passed through three narrow tunnels and negotiated more than 100 sharp left and right turns. The race concluded through Beer Bottle Pass, a winding mountain pass with a sheer drop-off on one side and a rock face on the other. Although the 2004 course required more elevation gain and some very sharp switchbacks (Daggett Ridge) were required near the beginning of the route, the course had far fewer curves and generally wider roads than the 2004 course.
A vehicle that was developed for the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge
The natural rivalry between the teams from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon (Sebastian Thrun, head of the Stanford team was previously a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon and colleague of Red Whittaker, head of the CMU team) was played out during the race. Mechanical problems plagued H1ghlander before it was passed by Stanley. Gray Team’s entry was a miracle in itself, as the team from the suburbs of New Orleans was caught in Hurricane Katrina a few short weeks before the race. The fourth finisher, Terramax, a 30,000 pound entry from Oshkosh Truck, finished on the second day. The huge truck spent the night idling on the course, but was particularly nimble in carefully picking its way down the narrow roads of Beer Bottle Pass.
2007 Urban Challenge
DARPA Grand Challenge (2007)
The third competition of the DARPA Grand Challenge, known as the "Urban Challenge", took place on November 3, 2007 at the site of the now-closed George Air Force Base (currently used as Southern California Logistics Airport), in Victorville, California (Google map). The course involved a 96 km (60-mile) urban area course, to be completed in less than 6 hours. Rules included obeying all traffic regulations while negotiating with other traffic and obstacles and merging into traffic.
The $2 million winner was Tartan Racing, a collaborative effort by Carnegie Mellon University and General Motors Corporation, with their vehicle "Boss", a Chevy Tahoe. The second place finisher earning the $1 million prize was the Stanford Racing Team with their entry "Junior", a 2006 Volkswagen Passat. Coming in third place was team Victor Tango from Virginia Tech winning the $500,000 prize with their 2005 Ford Escape hybrid, "Odin". MIT placed 4th, with Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania/Lehigh University also completing the course.
The six teams that successfully finished the entire course:
Team Name ID# Vehicle Type Team Home Time Taken
Tartan Racing 19 Boss 2007 Chevy Tahoe Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 4:10:20 1st Place; averaged approximately 14 mph (22.53 km/h) throughout the course
Stanford Racing 03 Junior 2006 Volkswagen Passat Wagon Stanford University, Palo Alto, California 4:29:28 2nd Place; averaged about 13.7 mph (22.05 km/h) throughout the course
VictorTango 32 Odin 2005 Ford Hybrid Escape Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia 4:36:38 3rd Place; averaged slightly less than 13 mph (20.92 km/h) throughout the course
MIT 79 Talos Land Rover LR3 MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts Approx. 6 hours 4th Place.
The Ben Franklin Racing Team 74 Little Ben 2006 Toyota Prius University of Pennsylvania, Lehigh University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania No official time. One of 6 teams to finish course
Cornell 26 Skynet 2007 Chevy Tahoe Cornell University, Ithaca, New York No official time. One of 6 teams to finish course
Stanford Racing and Victor Tango together at an intersection in the DARPA Urban Challenge Finals.
While the 2004 and 2005 events were more physically challenging for the vehicles, the robots operated in isolation and only encountered other vehicles on the course when attempting to pass. The Urban Challenge required designers to build vehicles able to obey all traffic laws while they detect and avoid other robots on the course. This is a particular challenge for vehicle software, as vehicles must make "intelligent" decisions in real time based on the actions of other vehicles. Other than previous autonomous vehicle efforts that focused on structured situations such as highway driving with little interaction between the vehicles, this competition operated in a more cluttered urban environment and required the cars to perform sophisticated interactions with each other, such as maintaining precedence at a 4-way stop intersection.
2007 Urban Challenge teams employed a variety of different software and hardware combinations for interpreting sensor data, planning, and execution. Some examples:
Cornell's code was written in C++ and C# and ran on 17 dual core servers. Planning involved Bayesian mathematics.
Insight Racing used Mac Minis running Linux because they could run on DC power at relatively low wattage and produce less heat.
Team Case was using Mac Minis running Windows.
Team Gray used an embedded system, called the GrayMatter, Inc. AVS. This hardware solution was considerably smaller than the hardware-setup of other teams.Also, the system allows possible expansion with other sensors.
Team LUX was running an embedded version of Windows XP.
Team Jefferson's software ran on Perrone Robotics' MAX robotics platform running atop Sun Microsystems' Java RTS on Solaris, Java SE on Linux, Java ME running on micro-controllers and Sun SPOT.
Team Ben Franklin's code was written in MATLAB.
Sting Racing's software was written in Java running on Linux.
VictorTango's software was written in a mixture of C++ and LabVIEW, and was split between Windows and Linux servers.
Team Gator Nation's architecture consisted of C, C++, and C# running on a variety of windows and fedora systems communication with the JAUS protocol.
MIT's software was written in C, running on a Linux cluster with 40 cores.
Austin Robot Technology's software was written and developed by undergraduates from a UT-Austin course. The code was in C++, using the Player Project as an infrastructure.
The winning entry, Tartan Racing employed a hierarchical control system, with layered mission planning, motion planning, behavior generation, perception, world modelling, and mechatronics.