Getting Sideways at the DARPA Derby

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The U.S. military's sprawling logistics system has always been its most vulnerable flank. Two years ago Iraqi insurgents figured that out. In 2004 and 2005, attacks on supply trucks killed hundreds of U.S. troops. More escorts and thicker armor eventually trumped insurgent attacks - for now - but the military hasn't forgotten just how hairy it got. In typical American fashion, the military decided one of the best ways to protect logistics troops was to fire them, and make supply convoys autonomous.

It's freezing cold this morning at an abandoned U.S. Air Force base near Victorville, California. In just a few minutes, officials from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will fire the gun to begin the 60-mile, 6-hour Urban Challenge robot race. The idea: to demonstrate the technology that might one day result in fully robotic supply trucks that can find their way through intersections, maneuver around obstacles, change lanes and stop on a dime when some kid runs across the road. The prize: a $3.5 million check from Uncle Sam.

Two weeks ago, there were 35 teams from universities and industry vying for a spot in the final race. After rigorous testing, during which the robots were required to adhere to California traffic laws, only 11 teams are left. One disqualified robot plowed into a human-driven Darpa car. Others freaked out at intersections, parking lots or left turns.

Read the rest of David Axe's brief from Aviation Week HERE.

-- Christian

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