Darpa's million-dollar robot rally, scheduled for March, may have been fatally compromised over the holiday break.The whole point of the "Grand Challenge" was that the drone racers had to wind their way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on their own. The Global Hawk, Predator, and other so-called "autonomous vehicles" today maneuver only with a ton of help from human operators. Flesh-and-blood pilots either give the drones pre-programmed paths to follow, or they remote-control the robots using a joystick.In contrast, the Grand Challengers could have no contact while their mechanical creations raced. And nobody, absolutely nobody, was supposed to know the route beforehand. Otherwise, it could have just been coded into the drone's memory.But now, Mobile Robotics notes, the routes have leaked online. The local office of the Bureau of Land Management put on their website all the paths being considered. And some of the robot-makers are pissed."This makes the Grand Challenge pointless. It's not about autonomous vehicles any more. It's about preprogrammed ones," one fumed on a Grand Challenge message board.No, no, Darpa spokesperson Jan Walker tells the Register. "The maps show a thousand or more miles of possible routes." Everything's still kosher; the drone racers won't know exactly where to go.Maybe. But, according to the Register, a "Los Angeles-based company (is) offering to overfly the course with laser mapping and photographic equipment. The information will be go up for sale to the Grand Challenge teams."Exactly how those teams were picked generated controversy. Originally, the Grand Challenge was an open event. Then, suddenly, the field was narrowed to twenty teams after some robot-builders had spent tens of thousands of dollars, and countless hours, on their racers.In response, a competing LA-to-Sin City drone rally was started. It's scheduled for September. The precise path the robots will take hasn't been revealed yet.

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