Welcome to Austin Robot Technology!"--Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain
"--We choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." -- John F. Kennedy, Address given at Rice University, September 12, 1962
IntroductionAustin Robot Technology is a team of volunteers, with a wide range of expertise in hardware, software and mechanical systems. We are designing and building an autonomous vehicle to compete in the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. The Grand Challenge is an exciting, difficult, and highly competitive contest and we relish the opportunity to help push the envelope of technology. The goal of the Grand Challenge is to save lives on the battlefield and we want to help develop this technology.
Who is DARPA?The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, is the central Research and Development arm of the Department of Defense. DARPA's mission is to do advanced research and their primary responsibility is to conceive, explore, and demonstrate breakthrough concepts and advanced technologies... And what that REALLY means is that they get to invent really cool stuff!
Over the decades DARPA has fulfilled its mission very well, with an impressive list of accomplishments. President Kennedy in 1961 knew that DARPA was working on the Saturn rocket when he said that we should commit our nation to landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade. He knew the rocket was coming and he knew we couldn't get to the moon without it. Another example of a DARPA success story is The Internet which started out as Arpanet in the 1970's. The 1980's brought us GPS (the Global Positioning System) and the Stealth fighters, and we saw the success of the Predator and GlobalHawk robotic aircraft in the 1990's. All in all, the story of DARPA is a story of successful technological innovation.
What is the DARPA Grand Challenge?Quite simply, the DARPA Grand Challenge is a race across the desert, kind of like the Baja 500, but not really :-) The vehicles in the DARPA Grand Challenge are autonomous! They have NO drivers and no humans are allowed onboard! All decisions are made by the onboard computers.
DARPA is sponsoring the Grand Challenge race in an effort to accelerate research and development of autonomous land vehicles. This is being done in order to implement a Congressional mandate that by the year 2015, one-third of the operational ground combat vehicles of the Armed Forces should be unmanned. During the Participant's Conference held in August 2004, DARPA representatives said they envision convoys of robotic vehicles delivering supplies to ground forces, thus helping save lives on the battlefield.
The First Race: March 13th, 2004
The first Grand Challenge was held March 13th, 2004. The course was 142 miles starting in Barstow, California and ending in Primm, Nevada.
DARPA received applications from 106 teams which attempted to build a robot, out of which 25 teams were selected as semi-finalists to participate in the Qualification, Inspection and Demonstration (QID) event which was held at the California Speedway in Fontana, California. At the qualifying event, teams navigated an obstacle course and demonstrated the capabilities of their vehicles.
The 25 semi-finalists displayed an astonishing diversity in their design. Some teams adopted modified golf cars as the platform for their robot. Other teams opted for commercially available 4x4 vehicles such as the modified Humvee entered by Carnegie Mellon University or the Toyota Tundra used by Team Digital Auto Drive. Still other teams decided to design their entire vehicle from scratch, such as Team Phantasm, Team CyberRider, Team LoGHIQ, and Team RoverSystems to name a few.
Out of the 25 semi-finalists, 15 qualified to participate in the actual race but here was no winner because none of the 15 participants was able to complete the 142 mile course. The best result was Carnegie Mellon University which went 7.36 miles. At that point, "Sandstorm" (their robot) carved a left turn too sharply and became high-centered on the side of a switchback on a mountainous section of the course. The robot spun its wheels fiercely trying to free itself, to the point that the tires caught on fire!
A total of eight universities participated in the 2004 race including Caltech, Carnegie Mellon University, George Mason University, Ohio State University, University of Louisiana, UCLA, University of Florida, Utah State University and Virginia Tech.
The Next Race: October 8th, 2005!
The next race will be held October 8th, 2005. Close to 200 teams entered this year's competition and our team is one of 43 semi-finalists invited by DARPA to attend this year's qualifying event. Only the top 20 teams will earn the right to "start their engines" come race day and we are hoping to be one of those teams at the starting line October 8th!
What do we know about the 2005 course? Not much really! We know it will be less than 175 miles, we know it will be in the Mojave desert, we know it must be completed in under 10 hours, and we know the course can be traversed by a commercially available 4x4 vehicle.
Two hours before the start of the race (at precisely 4:30 a.m.), DARPA will give us a CD with about two thousand GPS waypoints describing the route. We have two hours to load this information into our robot and then we press the big red button that says: GO! The course will take us through the desert, through rutted tracks, through mountainous switchbacks, and through narrow underpasses or tunnels. Imagine THAT! We are building a robot but we don't even know where this robot will travel, and we must complete the course in under 10 hours!
In order to complete the course in the allotted time, our robot must travel at an average speed close to 17 miles per hour, which means it will be going much faster than that in many sections of the course! In last year's race there were sections in which the top speed was specified at 60 miles per hour! That's faster than the speed limit on most roads! Imagine trying to build a robot to go that fast without any human intervention!
Does this sound exciting? Why yes... we thought so as well! Does this sound impossible? Well yes... there's THAT too... but with a name like THE GRAND CHALLENGE, how can you resist? :-)
From the onset we have focused on building the right team in order to be competitive at the Grand Challenge. We have succeeded at building a very strong team, recruiting many team members and advisors from top Texas universities such as Rice University, The University of Texas at Austin, and St. Edwards University, as well as drawing talent from many other universities such as Brown, Cornell and Rensselaer.
Our team banner describes our team perfectly. It is a quote from an address given by President John F. Kennedy on September 12, 1962 at Rice University, in which he justifies our country's quest to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. In his famous speech President Kennedy said: "...But why, some say, the moon? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
The DARPA Grand Challenge is an effort undertaken primarily by either universities or by small teams of volunteers (like our team). A volunteer effort such as ours can only flourish with the sponsorship of companies and we are fortunate to have found many sponsors who want to be a part of this historic event and who are willing to help our team succeed.
The Suzuki-Isuzu dealership of Austin deserves special recognition; we are very fortunate to have them as one of our primary sponsors. The support we have received from the dealership can not be underestimated. They have provided our vehicle and most of our funding and they are one of the key reasons for our team's success. Thank you Suzuki-Isuzu of Austin!!! We would not be here without you!
Sun Microsystems has offered advanced servers and equipment for our vehicle, and a Chicago-based company named Arens Controls is sponsoring our team by providing the shift-by-wire mechanism for our vehicle. Tyan Computer Corporation offered high end motherboards and AMD provided cutting edge Opteron processors. Enidine Incorporated has offered to sponsor our team by providing the engineering solution required to isolate our sensitive electronic equipment from shock and vibration using the same technology they use in their Defense line of products. In addition companies such as NavCom and Videre have offered their products at discounted rates.
Austin is a unique, diverse, talent-rich city. We believe that our team reflects our city's vibrant and creative workforce. As part of our goal of making sure that Austin is well represented at this event, we continue to recruit team members, technical collaborators, and sponsors from one of the best talent pools in the world--the Austin technology and academic communities.
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