DARPA Urban Challenge Details Emerge

Posted 18 May 2006 at 18:36 UTC by steve Share This

The new DARPA Urban Challenge will be quite a change from the previous two Grand Challenge competitions. Nelson Bridwell has sent us a few observations on the emerging details of the new competition that he gleaned from documents released on the Federal Business Opportunities website. Among other changes, it appears only full-size, stock automotive vehicles can be used as the basis of the robots. And this time teams will be allowed only 5 minutes to load the mission data from a supplied USB 2.0 flash drive into their robots, eliminating any chances for human optimization of the data. A draft version of the rules (PDF format) was released yesterday as well. Read on for more details and Nelson's comments.

Quotes from DARPA are in italics. Nelson's comments are bold.

"Vehicle must be built upon a full-size stock chassis or have a documented safety record. Vehicles smaller than a midsize commercial automobile do not meet this requirement. Golf cart-type or all terrain vehicles (ATVs) do not meet this requirement."
No more GhostRiders, CyberRiders, or golf carts!

"Vehicle must be capable of loading a mission description file via a standard USB 2.0 flash drive." "The vehicle will have 5 minutes to process a mission description before attempting the course."
No more marathon pre-race micromanagement in the planning trailer by a herd of grad students!

"The following behaviors or capabilities are outside the scope of this program: Recognition of external traffic signals such as traffic lights and stop signs through the use of sensors. The Urban Challenge route network definition file will include information such as stop sign locations, nominal lane width, lane markings, and parking spot locations."
It might be possible to accomplish with minimal (if any) vision processing.

"To complete the requirements for the Urban Challenge, each vehicle will complete multiple missions over a defined route network. The route network definition specifies accessible roads and all areas in which the vehicle may travel. A mission is a series of checkpoint locations that must be passed over sequentially by the vehicle. The path between checkpoints is not specified."

"DARPA will provide the Route Network Definition File (RNDF) that includes all accessible road segments and provides information such as waypoints, stop sign locations, lane widths, checkpoint locations, and parking spot locations. The route network has no implied start or end points. Road blockages will not be indicated in the RNDF."

"DARPA will also provide a Mission Data File (MDF) containing the checkpoints that must be reached and maximum and minimum speed limits for the road segments. MDFs will be provided by DARPA for all Urban Challenge test events."

So automated planning and re-planning will be a major focus of this event.

Why cars?, posted 19 May 2006 at 15:17 UTC by reed » (Apprentice)

Demmanding use of cars, trucks or jeeps rules out many novel vehicle designs (even though they are more robust than atvs, golf carts, motorcycles :)


Why cars?, posted 19 May 2006 at 17:42 UTC by Masse » (Apprentice)

After reading the rules, it's evident off-road travel isn't necessary. (In fact, it's specifically to be avoided. :)) Cars are already well optimized for travel on roads, so they removed that aspect (novel mechanical designs) of the challenge in order to focus on the sensor/actuator/decision making aspects. It's reasonable given the urban nature of the challenge.

No Cash for the Winners, posted 22 May 2006 at 11:56 UTC by IgorCarron » (Journeyer)

On Saturday, at the meeting with DARPA in DC, it was announced that currently and unless the language in the legislation was changed, DARPA would not be able to award any cash prizes. In other words, in the worst case scenario (they cannot get that language back in the bill), track B winners will get a trophy. Track A people will be able to do the race as they will be paid to do so.


Micro-management still quite alive..., posted 22 May 2006 at 18:26 UTC by Nelson » (Journeyer)

At the participants conference they announced that the data file that defines the road network will be available 24 hours in advance, so it appears that there might still be teams of human eyeballs looking over all sources of information to alert the vehicles about static obstacles.

The 5 minute rule applies to the file that contains the checkpoints for each mission.

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