Urban Challenge Winners Announced

1st Place – Tartan Racing (Carnegie Mellon)

2nd Place – Stanford Racing Team

3rd Place – Victor Tango (Virginia Tech)

That’s all the info on the web at the moment. More details should be available soon. Check Wired or TGDaily.

The details are out (video, photos, more photos). The biggest surprise was that final ordering came down to time alone; no team was penalized for violating the rules of the road (I wonder if this can be correct – the webcast showed Victor Tango mounting the kerb at one point). On adjusted time, Tartan was about 20 minutes ahead of Stanford, with Victor Tango another 20 minutes behind. MIT placed fourth.

DARPA director Tony Tether seemed to state quite strongly that this will be the final Grand Challenge. I’d wait and see on that front. I seem to remember similar statements after the 2005 Challenge. It’s possible the event will continue, but not under DARPA. What exactly the subject of a future challenge would be is not obvious. There’s still a lot of work to be done to build reliable autonomous vehicles, but many of the basics have now been covered. The Register reports that Red Whittaker is proposing an endurance event to test performance over a longer period with variable weather conditions. I think maybe a more interesting challenge would be to raise the bar on sensing issues. Right now the teams are heavily reliant on pre-constructed digital maps and GPS. In principle, there’s no reason they couldn’t run without GPS using only a normal road-map, but taking the crutches away would force the teams to deal with some tough issues. It’s a significant step up, but no worse than the jump between the 2005 Challenge and yesterday.

Whatever DARPA decides to do, I hope they don’t make the mistake of walking away from this prematurely. The Grand Challenges have built up a big community of researchers around autonomous vehicles. They’re also priceless PR for science and engineering in general. I think the teams are resourceful enough to find funding for themselves, but without the crucial ingredient of a public challenge to work toward, things may lose momentum. The next time a politician frets about the low uptake of science courses, I hope someone suggests funding another Grand Challenge.

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