LOS ANGELES (AP) - When the Pentagon's research arm first called for innovators to design and race a self-driving car to make warfare safer, a ragtag bunch of garage tinkerers, computer geeks and even high school students answered.
No one won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's inaugural contest in 2004. An encore the following year produced five robots that crossed the finish line, and a team from Stanford University drove away with the $2 million prize.
If yesteryear's contests evoked the Wild West, with teams working in the open desert on a shoestring budget, this year's is modern: The field is more savvy, the terrain is urban and corporate sponsors and public relations machines have entered the fray.
"They've become like NASCAR teams with multiple sponsors and stickers on everything," said Peter Singer, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who has followed the DARPA competitions. "It shows that it's becoming big business."
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