DEXTER made it!
Case Western Reserve University’s dune buggy-like autonomous robotic vehicle has passed nearly all of its tests and is headed to the semifinals of the $3.5 million DARPA Urban Challenge, October 26-31 in Victorville, Calif.
DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, announced today that Team Case along with its industry partner, ENSCO, Inc., is among a group of 36 national and international teams selected to participate in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge National Qualifying Event (NQE).
This is the first-ever entry by Case Western Reserve in the popular robotic vehicle competition, which is made up of about 30 undergraduate and graduate students and faculty from the Case School of Engineering.
"We have spent the past year refining DEXTER, and being chosen to race in the NQE represents a significant milestone in our quest to compete in the DARPA Urban Challenge," said Wyatt Newman, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and faculty leader of Team Case. "We’re proud to be part of such a great event and excited about the opportunity to help create a technology that could save the lives of American men and women on the battlefield.
"Our competition is certainly formidable, but we believe in ourselves and believe we can place highly or even win the competition. But whatever happens, it has been a fantastic experience, and the team is thrilled to have gotten this far on our very first try."
To succeed in the Urban Challenge, a team's robots must perform like cars with drivers and safely conduct simulated battlefield supply missions on a 60-mile urban area course. They must obey traffic laws while merging into traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections and avoiding obstacles in fewer than six hours.
"The urban setting adds considerable complexity to the challenge faced by the robotic vehicles," said Andy Allen, a doctoral student and robotic control and artificial intelligence technical lead for Team Case. "And the setting replicates the environment in which many of today's battlefield missions are conducted, particularly in a war zone like Iraq."
The program is conducted as a series of qualification steps leading to a competitive final event, scheduled to take place somewhere in the western United States on November 3, 2007. The exact location will be announced before the NQE. DARPA is offering $2 million for the fastest qualifying vehicle and $1 million and $500,000 for second and third place.
The Urban Challenge is an outgrowth of two previous DARPA Grand Challenge autonomous vehicle competitions. The first Grand Challenge event was held in March 2004 and featured a 142-mile desert course. Fifteen autonomous ground vehicles attempted the course and no vehicle finished. In the 2005 Grand Challenge, four autonomous vehicles successfully completed a 132-mile desert route under the required 10-hour limit, and DARPA awarded a $2 million prize to "Stanley" from Stanford University.
Team Case is sponsored by several individuals and businesses, including ENSCO, Inc., a well-established engineering consulting and contracting firm based in Falls Church, Va. DEXTER was designed originally by ENSCO and placed sixth in DARPA's Desert Challenge in 2005 and has been lent to the university. Other sponsors include Goodyear, the George Gund Foundation, the MathWorks, National Instruments, Nordson Corporation, Novatel, Ridge Road Auto Parts and QNX Software Systems; Case alumni Greg Glosser of Glosser Manufacturing Co. and Larry Enterline; and Sam Bell of the Lusty Wrench, Michael Karcic of Accurate Tech Inc., Richard Liu, Leslie Chung, Meredith Seikel and the Tien Family Trust.