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Did anyone doubt Silicon Valley would win the Grand Challenge?

Stanford Car.jpgActually yes. The Stanford University team's robotic vehicle was in second place for much of the 132-mile course across the Nevada desert, but in a thriller it passed the Carnegie Mellon leader, and snagged the $2 million prize. Congrats!

(Photo: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes )

The race was funded by the Pentagon's DARPA, as a way to develop technologies for 21st-century automated warfare. There was no driver. The car had to go up and down hills, pass through obstacles, all with no help. In addition to Stanford, Silicon Valley's chip powerhouse Intel, and venture capital firm Mohr Davidow Ventures were supporters of Stanley, the winning car.

Here's the NYT piece, which mentions the various Silicon Valley celebrities who were on hand for the event, including Google co-founder Larry Page, and Apple co-founder Stephen Wozniak -- who apparently raced around the pit area on a Segway scooter.

The Stanford scientists who led the 18-month effort to build Stanley said they saw their victory as a significant leap forward in the field of artificial intelligence, a discipline that has long suffered from big promises that did not pan out.

"This is for people who say, 'Cars can't drive themselves,' " said Sebastian Thrun, the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-leader of the Stanford team. "These are the same people who said the Wright brothers wouldn't fly."

More info here at Darpa's site.

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From: SiliconBeat
How Stanford's Stanley won the Desert Grand Challenge
Excerpt: Here's the follow-up look into what made Stanford's car the victor earlier this month at the DARPA Grand Challenge 132-mile driverless race across the desert. It is by Mercury News colleague Mike Langberg, and explains how smart focus was behind it all...
Tracked: October 19, 2005 8:42 AM
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Lots of key team members behind the winning vehicle happen to work for Volkswagen AG. So if you want to be jingoistic, you could say that Germany, the state of Lower Saxony, or even VW's home city of Wolfsburg won the Darpa challenge, rather than Silicon Valley.
Of course it's better PR for VW to simple "sponsor" a bunch of plucky students from Standord than to take the credit itself.

Auto IT on October 11, 2005 6:21 AM
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Thanks Auto IT,

We do not want to be jingoistic. Good on you for pointing out the significance of Volkswagen.

Matt Marshall on October 11, 2005 11:31 AM
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Just for grins, the leading CMU Hummer vehicle lost, due to a mechanical failure associated with the laser scanner's gimball per the NYT. Till then, the Volkwagen was noticeably lagging behind.

Other point is that both the Stanford researchers were apparently schooled in the art by Red Wittaker at CMU, FWIW.

You can bet if there is a next time, there won't be any laser scanner gimbal failure to cause a Red Whittaker loss ( err 2nd place ). This is the guy whose robots are all over the place in space and terrestial demos.

And congratulations are due to the excellent Stanford team.


A CMU alumni

anon on October 11, 2005 1:27 PM
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Actually, I don't think it is correct to say that the Stanford team was "lagging behind." The entrants were started at 5 minute intervals, and for quite a while as I followed the positions on the DARPA web site I couldn't tell who was actually ahead...by speed the Red Team and Stanford were neck and neck.

The great thing about the race is that in about 18 months, for $2 million plus expenses DARPA has multiple sources of technology capable of autonomous vehicles. This is a fraction of what it would have cost going the old fashioned government contract route...and much faster too.

Tommy Ward on October 13, 2005 9:18 AM
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