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MORE ON DARPA'S ROBO-RACE

I did some additional digging into Darpa's robotic rally, scheduled for March. Wired News is running the story today:Seth Chabe's bank accounts are empty. And he's exhausted from endless work.Since April, Chabe has been scrambling to build from scratch a robotic jeep, of sorts, to run in a million-dollar, all-drone road race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas next March, sponsored by the Pentagon.But now, Chabe may not get the chance. After inviting every robot maker with a dream to take part in the Grand Challenge, Darpa, the Defense Department's research arm, has suddenly declared that only 20 drone roadsters will be allowed to enter. This may not mean much to the conglomerate-sponsored, university-backed outfits in the race. But bootstrapping crews like Chabe's six-man Team LoGhIQ now may not make the cut."I basically feel jerked around," said Chabe, a 24-year-old engineer from Glen Cove, New York. "I've put so much time into this."Grand Challenge spokesman Don Shipley says Darpa was caught off-guard by the enormous response to the race."All along, we told state and local officials that there'd be no more than 20 vehicles," Shipley said. Changing those commitments to the authorities at this late date just wouldn't be feasible, he said.So, instead, Darpa's changed the rules on the racers a bit.Now, in addition to approving a written proposal -- and conducting a series of inspections in the week before the race -- Darpa representatives will be performing "site visits" to qualifying teams in December.The smaller teams are not happy about having to jump through this extra hoop."The idea that our participation now depends on how well we can kowtow to some Washington bureaucrat has put us at wits' end. We feel this is a preposterous insult to our all-volunteer effort," Ivar Schoenmeyr, with the CyberRider team, wrote in an e-mail. His group of nine has already spent $20,000 out of their own pockets on the Grand Challenge drone, and has committed another $40,000 to the effort.

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