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DARPA ROBO-RACE FINALISTS ANNOUNCED

The teams for Darpa's "Grand Challenge" -- the $1 million all-drone road race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas -- are set, says UV Online. And despite fears that only university-backed megacrews would qualify for the mid-March ride, several of the little guys have made the final cut.A team from Palos Verdes High School in California will be running. And so will Team LoGhIQ, the straight-out-of-college boys, profiled in this Wired News article of mine, who maxed out their credit cards to build their 'bot.Unfortunately, the way Darpa came to its decision is a little shady. First, the Challenge was open to all teams. Then, agency officials decided that only twenty teams could compete -- and that they'd visit every drone-making site to decide which ones could run. Finally, they decided to pick 19 of the 20 teams, and only allow site visits to determine who got the final slot, and the five alternate positions.Some teams, shut out of the process, say they're going to start their own, "Civilian Grand Challenge," to run side-by-side with Darpa's race. But organizing the event with so little time is going to be pretty-damn-near impossible.THERE'S MORE: The reason the Grand Challenge is such a big deal is that the drones won't be able to talk to their human masters at all during the race.Most of what are today called "autonomous" aerial or ground vehicles are, in fact, operated from a human being in another location -- souped-up radio-controlled toys, in other words. Each Global Hawk UAV, for example, has two or three flesh-and-blood operators on the ground, plus a dozen people devoted to its maintennance, StrategyPage observes.That's why predictions of all-robot armies any time soon are so silly. And that's why the Grand Challenge is such a big step.

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