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No Drivers. No Winners.

Fifteen driverless vehicles came to the starting line on Saturday. None finished the 142 mile Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas course, and so the Pentagon’s $1 million “Grand Challenge” prize will go unclaimed. The best performances were the 7.4 miles achieved by…
March 15, 2004

Fifteen driverless vehicles came to the starting line on Saturday. None finished the 142 mile Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas course, and so the Pentagon’s $1 million “Grand Challenge” prize will go unclaimed. The best performances were the 7.4 miles achieved by a Carnegie Mellon team and 6.6 miles by a SciAutonics vehicle. Most of the other 15 teams in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency competition managed only a few hundred yards before getting stuck, going hopelessly off course, or succumbing to some other malfunction.

The trek across the Mojave Desert turned into a Murphy’s Law jubilee, as everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The Carnegie Mellon vehicle’s journey ended when it got caught on a berm and the rubber on the front wheels caught fire. The Sci-Autonics entry got stuck in an embankment. Some other entries from DARPA’s race log:

Team Caltech: At mile 1.3, vehicle veered off course, went through a fence, tried to come back on the road, but couldn’t get through the fence again.

Axion Racing: Vehicle circled the wrong way in the start area.

Team ENSCO: Vehicle moved out smartly, but, at mile 0.2, when making its first 90-degree turn, the vehicle flipped.

Team TerraMax: Several times, the vehicle sensed some bushes near the road, backed up and corrected itself. At mile 1.2, it was not able to proceed further.

The Golem Group: At mile 5.2, while going up a steep hill, vehicle stopped on the road, in gear and with engine running, but without enough throttle to climb the hill. After trying for 50 minutes, the vehicle was command-disabled.

DARPA is expected to hold another autonomous vehicle challenge, possibly in 2006. TR previewed the Grand Challenge last summer.

Deep Dive

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DREAM VENDING MACHINE I feed it coins and watch the spring coil back,the clunk of a vacuum-packed, foil-wrappeddream dropping into the tray. It dispenses all kinds of dreams—bad dreams, good dreams,short nightmares to stave off worse ones, recurring dreams with a teacake marshmallow center.Hardboiled caramel dreams to tuck in your cheek,a bag of orange dreams…

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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