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Inside DARPA's Robot Race

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the ghost-cars dept.

135

Belfegor writes "The PBS series Nova has a great feature on their website, regarding the coverage of the DARPA-sponsored 'Robot Race' in which driverless vehicles 'competed' in a 130-mile race across the Mojave Desert. The full show is available on the website, and besides that they have plenty more information about the robotics behind the challenge, and also some pretty cool out-takes from the show."

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135 comments

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Used to be a lot slower. (2, Interesting)

rob_squared (821479) | more than 7 years ago | (#15018921)

I remember an old nova special about self-navigating robots, and at first it took about a day to cross a room.

But mostly these robots depend on the assumption that everything remains still.

Re:Used to be a lot slower. (1)

InvaderSkoodge (858660) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019231)

"But mostly these robots depend on the assumption that everything remains still."

But "Stanley" did pass whoever had been in first place while that vehicle was moving.

Re:Used to be a lot slower. (1)

slcdb (317433) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019932)

Yep. That was a big question mark in my mind as I watched the show last night. As soon as the first vehicle left the gate, I had to wonder, "What's going to happen if one of them catches up to the vehicle in front of them?" Passing a moving object is not like avoiding stationary objects -- which is all the qualifying course contained.

Surprisingly, Stanley seemed to have no trouble at all passing Highlander, but I wonder how much of that was just pure luck (and the fact that it happened during a stretch where the trail was much wider than in many other spots).

Re:Used to be a lot slower. (1)

InvaderSkoodge (858660) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020034)

"I wonder how much of that was just pure luck (and the fact that it happened during a stretch where the trail was much wider than in many other spots)."

Yeah, it would have been interesting to see what would happen if Stanley had caught up to Highlander at a spot where there wasn't room to pass. Would it believe that Highlander was a stationary object and stop moving, thinking there was no way to proceed, or would it just have followed behind Highlander?

I understand that it is not within the spirit of this competition, but I also have to wonder if it would have been possible to program in a little "offensive" driving where Highlander could have somehow prevented Stanley from ever passing.

Seen it (5, Informative)

Moby Cock (771358) | more than 7 years ago | (#15018926)

PBS broadcast that show last night. While I realise that is is a little 2001 to actually watch a program when it is braodcast, I did. And I really enjoyed it. I am hardly current on the status of autonomous robotics and I was pleasantly surprised by how far along the technology is. 130 miles through the dessert using only GPS and local sensors is a pretty amazing feat, and that course was tough. It features mountain switchbacks, tunnels and other hazards. If you even have a passing interest in robotics I recommend watching the show.

Seen it-One eyed. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15018984)

The interesting thing for me is that the method we use (our eyes) was too difficult for machines. That's why all those robots used lasers, and other techniques. We've come far, but we still have a long way to go.

Re:Seen it-One eyed. (2, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019209)

The human eye and visual cortex are an amazingly complex and complicated system. Interestingly enough, I remember about reading about the a while back in December. According to the wired article, IIRC, Stanley used a combination of lasers (short range) and cameras (long range). It then took what it learned about the short range view of the landscape and it applied that knowledge against what it was seeing on the long range from the cameras. [slashdot.org]

This is actually not too far different from how human vision works -- we sort of guess about the landscape in front of us based on knowledge of other landscapes and the current landscape around us that we can see close-up. We just don't have lasers. ;)

Fascinating program (1)

amightywind (691887) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019294)

This was a fascinating program. It would have been nice if the Stanford team divulged more of their ideas, what software languages and designs they used etc. It looked like they were doing a Bayesian classification on combined laser ranging and video on the terrain ahead. Doing that for 1 image is complicated enough. Doing 10+/sec is mindblowing. The control system moderated the vehicle's need to follow a prescribed path with how safe the path was. Amazing stuff, very elegant. Pretty much done with a stock Volkwagon SUV. Next time they should conduct this race without GPS. I have no doubt someone will figure it out.

Re:Fascinating program (1)

Moby Cock (771358) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019336)

I agree that more detail would have been preferable. However, I expect the producers have to contend with trying to make this show appeal to a broader viewership than the typical /. geeks like you or I.

Does anyone have any links that contain more gory details about the Stanford effort?

Re:Fascinating program (4, Informative)

SpyPlane (733043) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019779)

Do a google search on Sabastian Thrun, he was the team lead for Stanford, and formally at CMU (what a non-coincidence). Most of the software they used on Stanly (Stanford's bot) was either written by Sebastian in his former research or taken from experience gained on CMU's team the previous year. The ladar mapping he used, I know I saw on some former page of his that had all the gory algorithm details. It might just take a little bit of searching. He also has a c library out there somewhere that does a lot of this stuff, but I can't seem to find it now.

One paper that's of interest might be here: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/user/thrun/pu blic_html/papers/thrun.ces-tr.html [cmu.edu] (sorry, no linky, writing in a hurry)

And that paper is mentioned in the readme of the BFL (Bayesian Filtering Library) found here:
http://people.mech.kuleuven.be/~kgadeyne/software/ bfl-trunk/ [kuleuven.be]

Lastly, at one point all of us competitors were required to give our design documents to DARPA, and they put them up on their webpage here:
http://www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge05/techpapers.h tml [darpa.mil]

BTW, I wasn't on Stanford's team, but I was on another finalist team.

Re:Fascinating program (1)

Yokaze (70883) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019949)

> Most of the software they used on Stanly (Stanford's bot) was either written by Sebastian in his former research or taken from experience gained on CMU's team the previous year.
[...]
> BTW, I wasn't on Stanford's team, but I was on another finalist team.

Those claims combined, it is fairly easy

Re:Fascinating program (1)

SpyPlane (733043) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020112)

Nice try, I wasn't on CMU either. No I was on a team that actually had to work for every dime they spent on the vehicle.

I'm not stating anything false. Read his research and when it took place. The core stuff all came from CMU or Sebastian in previous efforts (like I stated). Now once at Stanford they changed how they did things entirely and wrote a ton of code to make everything play much nicer than CMU's platform. Stanly was much smarter than either of the two CMU bots.

More details... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019785)

Follow the link in this comment [slashdot.org]

Re:Seen it (2, Insightful)

Random Utinni (208410) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019367)

It was a good show. One nifty bit of engineering from the Stanford team was to overlay a video camera image over laser-generated map, use a color-matching system to determine what colors of the video were level and safe to drive on, and then extrapolate what areas of the video image were safe.

The main difficulty that I see, going forward, is that the laser-rangefinder systems that these robots all relied on all function by looking for obstacles and attempting to avoid them. They can spot vertical anomalies, such as hay bales, other cars, poles, etc., but that's about it. None of these systems can actually determine road conditions. A rangefinder can't tell if the smooth road up ahead is actually a ginormous pothole filled with water, or if the road ahead is covered with a thick layer of ice. All it knows is that the area ahead is flat and clear... accelerate at will. Under such circumstances, any of these robots would run into serious difficulty, even if the course were relatively flat and straight.

As impressive as driving a windy road autonomously is, there's a long way to go before these things see commercial, or even military, use.

Re:Seen it (1)

dw604 (900995) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019778)

Since you said "windy" I read it as "windy" (ie. gusts of wind). I wonder how well these things can compensate for THAT. I bet they have a long way to go as far as "feeling" the grip on the road and drag/body roll of the chassis like a human does.

Re:Seen it (1)

Manchot (847225) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019695)

I agree. It was a very good program, made even better by the fact that it's narrated by John Lithgow. (I'm surprised that no one has mentioned this yet.)

Airs.. Yesterday!? (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019820)

Thanks slashdot!

Stanford 0wn3d Carnegie (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15018927)

Unlike Carnegie's "H1ghlander" and "Sandstorm", Stanford's "Stanley" VW Touareg had no fancy motion compensated sensors and the team didn't flesh out the race course with more GPS data and tell the vehicle how fast it could drive in certain areas. Stanley's software did all that on the fly.

Also, the SuperDAD Toyota pickup looked like it had a tenth of the tech of Stanley but it was doing almost as well. If only the laser sensor hadn't detached itself from the roof.

Re:Stanford 0wn3d Carnegie (1)

lo0ol (799434) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019253)

Yes, since one race really says a lot about which one is better. Let's look at the situation a few years from now and then make judgements. After all, CMU beat everyone the previous year. Plus, Stanford's team was basically a CMU team if you look at the composition of the team. Plus, using "0wn3d" at all was so 1997.

Who cares though. Look at the improvement from two years ago to this past race. Now we have (forgive me if I forget the details) 5-6 vehicles that finished the race? That says great things about the development of robotics in general.

Re:Stanford 0wn3d Carnegie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019368)

>>Yes, since one race really says a lot about which one is better.

Stanley walked (drove?) away with a $2 million check. No one else did. Guess they were better.

>>Stanford's team was basically a CMU team if you look at the composition of the team.

But it was obvious that the strategies used were completely different: micromanagement of massive amounts of data vs improved interpreting of a smaller set of data.

>>Plus, using "0wn3d" at all was so 1997.

I'm guessing this is some sort of subtle (yet lame) insult. Using "so 19xx" is something high schoolers say. Go back to study hall.

Re:Stanford 0wn3d Carnegie (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019606)

Plus, using "0wn3d" at all was so 1997
1997? Hell, that term has been in use since 1337!

Great show but... (5, Insightful)

SeeMyNuts! (955740) | more than 7 years ago | (#15018953)


it is interesting just how involved the contestants are. This contest is their life. They mentioned several times in the show how many months of long workdays they spent to build and program these cars. And, then, who owns the work? Do they at least get patent recognition on some of the innovations? Some of the software they talked about was truly seriously cool stuff.

Sidenote: One hour of Nova or Frontline is like watching 5 days worth of "learning" and "discovery" shows elsewhere. It's amazing how good some of these shows are.

Great show but...Patents bad. (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019056)

"And, then, who owns the work? Do they at least get patent recognition on some of the innovations? Some of the software they talked about was truly seriously cool stuff."

But, but. Software patents are bad. Now I'm confused.

Re:Great show but... (2, Interesting)

Machina Fortuno (963320) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019113)

I love PBS documentaries man. You can learn sooo much from them in a nice little narrated package.

Maybe all these guys are geniuses and get grants to work on the stuff. Maybe university supported or something like that. Or! They make their money in half a year, and build robot cars the rest of the time.

Re:Great show but... (1)

sentanta (619440) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019133)

I think most of the contestants are sponsored by the big automakers - so Stanford's team got funding/parts from Volkswagen. As to who owns the patents? Wouldn't Stanford?

Re:Great show but... (1)

Machina Fortuno (963320) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019254)

I would figure that any patent disputes would be settled in the contract though. Like...

"Because you are sponsored by VW, all respective research and technologies are ours, muahahah"

or vice versa, or... something like that. There would have to be a pretty clear relationship between the sponsor and the grunt, whether it be royalties or whatever

Re:Great show but... (1)

Darth_brooks (180756) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019452)

Most (or many) universities make you sign away your rights to a patent for something you created on "university" time with university funds and equipment. It's one of the many political battlegrounds on campus in higher education these days. "How do you define what was done on whose time?" "Just because I work for the university doesn't mean that everything I do belongs to the uni", etc. etc.

I would wager that Stanford would be on the high ground if it came down to a legal battle.

Re:Great show but... (2, Informative)

CXI (46706) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019127)

They'll get patent recognition if they, you know, filed any patents. These teams can do whatever they want with any innovations they make. Many of them, especially the school based teams, operate under grants from other agencies which might have limitations on who owns or can patent what. However, each team makes the choice about where their funding comes from and what strings are attached to it.

Re:Great show but... (0)

Moby Cock (771358) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019211)

Sidenote: One hour of Nova or Frontline is like watching 5 days worth of "learning" and "discovery" shows elsewhere. It's amazing how good some of these shows are.

Hear hear!

Re:Great show but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019507)

Hear hear!

I'm deaf you insensitive clod!

Mostly paid employees and purchased parts (2, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019492)

Most of the successful teams had significant numbers of paid employees. Stanford had about sixty people back at Volkswagen working on the hardware. CMU had a huge headcount; they had more than fifty people on site at the Speedway, including people on the payrolls of Lockheed, Caterpillar, and other vendors. Oshkosh Truck was all paid employees. Didn't talk to the Grey Team much, but they were paid by some Insurance company.

The big breakthrough was Stanford's texture vision system. I was very impressed with that. Computer vision in unstructured environments has a terrible track record, yet they made it work. Everything else was basically integration of off the shelf gear.

One accomplishment not oftened mentioned is that, by year two, many of the components that weren't available in year one were available off the shelf. In year one, getting an integrated GPS/INS/compass/odometer system was very tough. Applanix had one that cost $70K, took up a 4U rack, and required air conditioning. (CMU used it.) By year two, you could get something comparable from any of three vendors for about $20-$30K, ruggedized and able to run on 12VDC. All the successful teams had one, usually from Trimble or Novatel. Once you have one of those, just staying on course is straightforward. Then it's all about obstacle avoidance.

Re:Mostly paid employees and purchased parts (2, Informative)

mmde (786545) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019763)

A minor correction... Stanford actually had 60 people total on the team. There were 9 people from VW working on the vehicle. You can see a list of all of the team members at our website [stanfordracing.org] .

Re:Great show but... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019892)

To answer your question regarding who owns what. I can't speak for the large University teams because they are just in a different universe as the rest of us were. Most teams didn't bother filling out patents because we were all just too damn busy. What we do rely on is our IP though. I was on a finalist team and we did write some pretty cool software that we are trying to do some stuff with on another project now. We own all the code (we wrote it). CMU and Stanford are a different beast altogether. I assume the university owns much of the code that they wrote. But really that's not a big loss for them, if it wasn't for the threat of DARPA taking contracts somewhere else that Stanford and CMU already had ( before the race was ever announced ) they wouldn't have even competed. They were competing to save their contracts, not for the money or to do something *neat*. Of course I am a little biased. I was on a small team with the only funding coming from our own pockets. We worked our day jobs and spent all night working on the vehicle. Even during the qualifying we were soldering boards in the motel that night. I'll admit, I wish I had a team of VW engineers working on a vehicle they designed and giving us all the I/O info needed to use the onboard vehicle computer directly.

Hmm (3, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#15018957)

After watching Why We Fight [imdb.com] , I'm not so keen on something like this anymore.

Re:Hmm (1)

CallFinalClass (801589) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019054)

Please elaborate.

Re:Hmm (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020061)

Please elaborate.

DARPA competitions encourage innovation in technology. Technology which may well end up on the battlefield some day. Not necessarily a bad thing if it prevents the loss of life, but after viewing the aforementioned film, I've got to thinking about how improved technology may be encouraging to those who would start wars. Why We Fight goes a ways toward exploring the military-industrial complex, congress' complicity (i.e. parts of a bomber are made in all 50 states, any representative proposing cutting the project sacrifices jobs in their state and 'doesn't bring home the bacon') and think-tanks which effectively are geared towards finding more ways for the private sector to invade government.

It's an excellent movie, far better and quite a bit more fair than Farhenheit 9/11. It really should be put on prime-time television, but as one reviewer noted, not a chance.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15020429)

"Technology which may well end up on the battlefield some day. Not necessarily a bad thing if it prevents the loss of life"

The goal of war isn't to prevent the loss of life. The goal of war is to resolve conflict by killing. It's not always the best way to resolve disagreements, but, if you kill enough people, is highly effective. I think one of our problems is we're not mean enough. The Germans were highly effective at warfare in the early years of WWII because they weren't afraid to kill whole heaps of people. Their mistake was pissing off too many people at the same time. If they would have taking on one country at a time, we'd probably be discussing this in German. Also, the US probably saved lives (both Japanese and American) in its struggle with Japan by killing lots of people at once (A-Bomb). If we would have done it "conventionally" it would have taken a lot longer and ended up costing more lives and maybe even the freedom of Japan (the Ruskies were about to invade when Japan surrendered to the US).

MOD PARENT UP- this is DAMN relevant (2, Insightful)

bugg (65930) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020064)

As a student at Carnegie Mellon who has discovered the extent of his school's ties to development (had I known prior... and no, CMU is not unique in this regard, the problem is everywhere) of military products and has since spoken out against them a few times, thank you for realizing that this DARPA stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I'm perhaps one of four people (an exaggeration, I hope) on my campus that isn't gung-ho about helping the DOD build driverless vehicles, and it's lonely at times.

Whatever moderator marked this down as off-topic was clearly just trying to limit the scope of discussion in the same way that DARPA and military contractors are trying to limit the scope of their moral and ethical liability.

Nice to see CMU... (1)

Darth Maul (19860) | more than 7 years ago | (#15018959)

As an alumnus of Carnegie Mellon, it was great to see the coverage. I did not realize that a lot of the Stanford team came from CMU; certainly says a lot about our robotics dept. Red is certainly a powerhouse there, and congrats that the two vehicles came in second and third.

I'm such a Nova junkie, and this was an excellent episode.

Re:Nice to see CMU... (1)

brilinux (255400) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019274)

Well, according to readme [activitiesboard.org] , CMU ended up on top anyway... (pdf warning, blah blah blah))

I'm a geek, so I watched this twice last night. (5, Interesting)

hackstraw (262471) | more than 7 years ago | (#15018980)


I will say, I was impressed, and surprised that I did not see an article on it at /.. I believe there was one last year.

I will say, that aside from "Stanley" winning the race on completion and time, I also believe that Stanley was the best technology. The H1lander and friend were micromanaged, and there were two vehicles that had different strategies (the tortoise and the hair) and it took almost the whole 2 hours of a team of people to map out the course and program the robots. They then added the fudge factor for human error with the fast and slow strategies.

Stanley was programmed in minutes of receiving the map, and it calculated its speed dynamically on its own. Stanley had "adaptive vision" which overlaid laser, video, and other sensory data to create a dynamic field of view of what was safe to drive through.

Now, what shocked me, was that so many teams finished this year. Nobody got past 7 or 9 miles last year, and many vehicles passed the entire 132 mile trip this year. Watching the vehicles drive was impressive. Most of the time, they appeared to be manned.

The course was not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. With the success of Stanley, I believe that this will increase the adaptive and learning capabilities in current software controlled systems. Currently, software is brute forced into trying to accommodate all possible logical conditions, which is impossible, and often just wrong.

Re:I'm a geek, so I watched this twice last night. (4, Funny)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019064)

There were two vehicles that had different strategies (the tortoise and the hair)

Let me guess; in the end it was a close shave and the tortoise only won by a whisker? ;)

Re:I'm a geek, so I watched this twice last night. (2, Insightful)

Stalyn (662) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019167)

The Red team (CMU) basically preprogrammed their robots before the race by looking at satellite maps of the race course. I thought in essence this was cheating but I suppose it was not against the rules. The Blue Team (Stanford) had a better software solution where their robot would essentialy drive and learn on the fly. I'm glad to see Stanley won because this is the technology needed for automated driving, imagine using the Red team's solution and have to preprogram you car? What's the point?

Re:I'm a geek, so I watched this twice last night. (1)

hackstraw (262471) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019264)

I'm glad to see Stanley won because this is the technology needed for automated driving, imagine using the Red team's solution and have to preprogram you car? What's the point?

Exactly. I believe that the Stanley approach was more "real life" for what we do now, and what will be done in the future. When I go on a trip, or even go to somewhere locally where I don't know the exact location of where I go, I at least get the address and correlate it to something I do know. With the ease and availability of Google maps, I usually get a map. This is what the Stanley team did.

The Red team had something like 15 or more people parallel processing and micromanaging the whole trip with arbitrary 5m/s or 6m/s speeds, and again, its worth noting that the red team had 2 vehicles one with a more aggressive and one with a more conservative speed input.

Stanley was able to drive 132 miles at an average of about 20m/h across rugged terrain up and down mountains, through tunnels, hairpin turns, and _pass_ the red team truck to win. Plus, its worthwhile to point out that the Red team had H1s whereas the Stanley team had a more modest and fuel efficient VW.

The Stanford Stanley team kicked ass. I'm very impressed.

You almost never see the words (2, Insightful)

gurutc (613652) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019020)

'Coverage' and 'Darpa' in the same paragraph.

Another interesting point is that it seems to me that this is the development arena for the military's new autonomously roving gun platform.

Re:You almost never see the words (5, Interesting)

Jett (135113) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019121)

I hadn't heard about it being for an autonomous gun platform. I watched the show last night and they presented it as purely for supply transports. They specifically mentioned Jessica Lynch and how she was just a truck driver who should never of been exposed to combat. They also mentioned that the DOD want's 1/3rd of their transport trucks to be autonomous within 10 years.

Re:You almost never see the words (0, Offtopic)

hackstraw (262471) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019303)

They specifically mentioned Jessica Lynch and how she was just a truck driver who should never of been exposed to combat.

She should have not volunteered for such a dangerous job.

I have a pet peeve with sob stories about how people enter known dangerous jobs, especially the military, where their existence is to be disposable to help the poor people of Iraq and ensure the economic welfare of the people back home.

Now, the initial invasion of Iraq is at best controversial. The continued occupation with no plans of leaving are another story. Every time I see one of those cute bumper stickers that say, "I support our troops" which is the most noncommittal version of "Its OK to be at war", I say to myself, "Then bring our troops home where they are safe".

Re:You almost never see the words (1)

Moby Cock (771358) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019313)

What struck me about that comment regarding Jessica Lynch is that she was resupplying the frontline. That means she was driving an armoured truck to where guys (and girls) are actively engaged in firefights but her exposure to danger was the concern. Of course, anyway that we can have fewer people in harm's way in a positive but I found it unsettling that the battle line soldiers were mentioned as a throw-away in order to frame their argument.

Overall though, a good show. Go watch it.

Re:You almost never see the words (1)

DG (989) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020382)

I came into the show - in glorious HD, no less (PBS has great HD content!) - a little late, so I missed the Jessica Lynch reference.

But I do understand the desire to attempt to make resupply trucks autonomous. I'm not entirely sure it's really possible... but I do understand the desire.

Modern militaries consume enourmous amounts of supplies, and those supplies are big, bulky, and heavy - and more often than not, highly explosive.

The main gun round for an M1A1 tank is around 200mm in diameter, weighs ~23kg, and is almost a metre long. A single Abrams will carry 40 of them, so a complete battle reload for a troop of 4 tanks is 3680kg (not counting packing material and dunnage; add 15% more weight to account for that and you're up to ~4250kg. The Abrams also uses a combustable cartridge case in its main gun ammo (the round is not encased in brass, only the base plate is metal - the rest of the powder case is burned up when the ammo is fired) which reduces the weight per round, but makes the ammo *V*E*R*Y* flammable.

The tank also carries 500 gallons of fuel, which is good for about 150 miles of cruising/fighting, or about 8 hours of operation. (The Abrams has a turbine engine which is very fuel efficiant and light at full power, but also burns almost as much fuel at idle as it does at full throttle) A typical tanker truck carries about 4000 gallons, so a single tanker truck will get 4 tanks 300 miles, or 16 hours of operation.

Because this stuff is so bulky and heavy, the trucks that carry it are all about payload. There just isn't any room in the weight budget to provide any real armour. You can sometimes help protect the crew, but there's no way in hell you can armour the cargo - and the cargo is basically a big ol' bomb. Until such time as the fuel and ammo are transferred inside the tanks (where they are safe - well, safe-ish) the supply trucks are enormously vulnerable.

During the "Thunder Run" that seized Bagdad, the armoured column that grabbed and held the centre of the city came within a whisker of running out of fuel, and the resupply column that saved them took fire and lost a number of vehicles.

Autonomous supply trucks could have driven supplies forward without submitting the crews to the terror of a charge through enemy-occupied territory while riding a bomb. And unlike an autonomous weapon system, you aren't handing a human life over to a machine.

It's an interesting idea. I don't think it'll fly... but it is interesting.

DG

 

Re:You almost never see the words (1)

kosanovich (678657) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019169)

"Another interesting point is that it seems to me that this is the development arena for the military's new autonomously roving gun platform."

At some point this may be true, but more immediately this is the development arena for the military's new autonomous supply delivery system. If you look at the people that are most often getting attacked it's the supply caravans. If we didn't have to have people in those vehicles then the loss when a caravan is attacked is much less. Just because we can make a robot that can get from point A to point B doesn't mean it can easily identify and lock onto an enemy then fire... think of going to the taxpayers to pay for that.

Re:You almost never see the words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019708)

"Another interesting point is that it seems to me that this is the development arena for the military's new autonomously roving gun platform."

Well, as others have said, its because they're currently in development for supply convoys. But, for the sake of debate and also I'm bored, lets say they are being developed as autonomously roving gun platforms. How is that a bad thing? The reason armies exist is to resolve disagreements between two or more groups of people by killing enough of the "other guys" that the ones that are left give up. As bad as it sounds, its not really good or bad... it's just the way things are and always will be. If we can create robots to do this job more efficiently, then why shouldn't we?

torrent (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019036)

Thanks! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019328)

v nice

My Robot (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019040)

I would have entered a giant mechanical penis shaped robot car with "Kill all humans" written on the sides.

Too bad I've been so busy slacking this year.

Haven't I seen this before...? (2, Funny)

TriZz (941893) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019070)

...the Knight Rider prophacy is coming true!

Note to David Hasselhoff: Now's the time to re-invest into your (American) acting career!!

Re:Haven't I seen this before...? (1)

Machina Fortuno (963320) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019159)

I really hope that that note doesn't reach David.

Hell yeah! Now instead of having friends or parents drive us everywhere, our cars can! And secondly... if I talk to my car, it just keeps bitching about low oil pressure. I told it to stop whining and go complain to the auto-shop. But the automated system at the shop accidently ate my car. Poor thing...

Needs Serious funding (1)

thePig (964303) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019078)

Shouldnt we be all seeing fully functional independent robots by now?
The robotics is taking a long time to mature.
*very very* long time
I believe the problem is that only small set of individual professors and small group of students cannot achieve huge breakthroughs in engineering.

Creating an Atom Bomb was just engineering (since sustained reaction was experimentally proved in 1933 itself).
But how many people could do it?
It took a huge set of scientists (*read - not engineers) and a huge set of engineers working together to achieve it.
And they did it in what 3 years ??

Similarly one big government funded project, and we can see real robots around.
Otherwise, in 50 years from now, we would still have similar news coming out.

Re:Needs Serious funding (1)

Machina Fortuno (963320) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019198)

You sound like you are really ready for the planet to be overtaken by robots.

While the fact that so "few" (I am not sure of the validity of that statement)are working on improving robotics, you have to realize the massive task that it is to translate reality into a machine. And then... for that machine to independently make a decision based on the generalizations of their enviroment.

And about the A-bomb... they had Einstein, they cheated.

Re:Needs Serious funding (1)

TigerNut (718742) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019413)

What would a fully functional independent robot do? How would it improve your lifestyle? What is that worth to you, as a consumer? When you can make a valid business case based on good answers to those questions, the robots will come out of the woodwork.

In some arenas, the technology already exists. Roomba vacuums are fully functional independent robots. You can get (for a price, and with limited capability) robot lawn mowers. Some subway systems use automated trains; they're fully functional and independent within the constraints of their designed task. Fully automated aircraft landing systems have been demonstrated, but they require infrastructure investment and some psychological buy-in by the travelling public. Autopilots (especially as implemented in cruise missiles) are essentially independent survival machines with a dedicated goal.

You can see that the main issue with robotic systems is to get them to have some consideration for human existence, if the mechanical system that they operate is large enough to injure or kill them. Remove that constraint, and it's a lot easier.

Klaatu! Borada! Nikto! AAAAAAAAAIIIGHGH

Saw this show last night (1)

Ponga (934481) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019152)

Really good documentary! Seriously, you know you are a TRUE nerd when you witness an autonomous vehicle actually complete a race like this... and a tear comes to your eye! Really, I got misty-eyed watching this!!

Re:Saw this show last night (1)

TriZz (941893) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019162)

HAHAHA! I could imagine you playing "Eye of the Tiger" on your stereo with the video muted.

~*tear*~

Agressive Robot Drivers (4, Funny)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019248)

What do you do in the future when one of these is mass-produced and forgets its turn signal and cuts you off?
Do you scream and give it the finger?
Throw rocks at it?
Run it off the road?
Launch a homing missile at it?
Any way around it, driverless vehicles will have no rights in our future society!
Who will speak up for the robots?

Re:Agressive Robot Drivers (1)

Woogiemonger (628172) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019654)

What do you do in the future when one of these is mass-produced and forgets its turn signal and cuts you off?
...
driverless vehicles will have no rights in our future society!

If your fears are realized, hopefully they'll have no lefts either.

video is worth a thousand words (1)

80 85 83 83 89 33 (819873) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019257)

i do keep up with robotics and ai, religiously following the progress of the field for almost twenty years. and i have read every article i could find on the DARPA race, and kept track of the race on the (awful) Flash/shockwave site. after the race was won, i've almost become burnt out on it, almost not caring to watch the NOVA footage. well, i'm glad i did, because it showed the best inside info on how Stanford's AI and sensor fusion worked. and it compared and contrasted Stanley's AI techniques with Carnigie Mellon's. of course, watching multi-ton driverless vehicles veer off course and plow full steam ahead straight towards the spectators was exciting (some of the concrete barriers were knocked farther than when hit by NASCAR stock cars!). and H1ghlander sure had a taste for chewing up haybales! props to the geniuses at all the teams!

Seminar about Stanley (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019465)

Anything you gleaned from the NOVA documentary is bullshit compared to watching the guy explain it himself [cmu.edu]

Tell PBS Thanks! (3, Informative)

IanDanforth (753892) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019279)

I really enjoyed this, especially the fact that it was the full show online for free.

Let PBS know [pbs.org] what you thought about the format, show, or anything else.

-Ian

Re:Tell PBS Thanks! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019992)

Actually it would be even better if you gave them some cash .....

Sensors (1)

Rac3r5 (804639) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019296)

A lot of things seems trivial to implement in theory, but in actuality physical and environmental constraints seem to introduce a whole different ball game. A big congrats to all the teams who entered.

One thing that I noticed from the article is that one of the teams has problems with dust accumulating on the sensors. How would one get rid of this dust, so that you don't recieve incorrect readings?

Re:Sensors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019650)

There is a sophisticated device for removing accumulated dust and grime with which you are probably not familiar.

Its called "the shower"

Re:Sensors (1)

SpyPlane (733043) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019941)

Many of the teams (including us, small team, but still finalist) had little water spray nozzles. The LADAR would actually have a very specific error code when it was being disrupted, so we triggered on that. We also disregarded all "obstacles" within 1 cm of the sensor (ie: the lense!).

Although software was a big focus, having good mechanical engineers was the key. Keeping stuff cool and free from vibration type failures was a BIG deal.

Re:Sensors (1)

Rac3r5 (804639) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020023)

my first reaction to the dust issue was why not use water. But then I was thinking, won't spraying water on the sensors just cause you to have big clogs of dust on the sensor due to water droplets?

Re:Sensors (2, Informative)

SpyPlane (733043) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020088)

Honestly, not really. It was so damn dry out there that they water would spray the dust off and dry off in no time. I'd say rarely though did we ever see the water system turn on. Really, only in our mud testing did we ever get major buildup. Those LADAR's were pretty resilient sensors. The sun shining in them was much worse than any dust buildup.

Interview with Director and Team Leader (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019323)

Last Saturday, Digital Village Radio [digitalvillage.org] did an interview with Jason Spingarn-Koff, the filmaker of The Great Robot Race, and Sebastian Thrun, the leader of the winning Team Stanford. Here's a link to the mp3 [digitalvillage.org] .

but would it work? (3, Interesting)

lardlad (959872) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019370)

So DARPA funds this to create autonomous supply vehicles, which might work in a traditional battle with clearly drawn front lines and relatively secure transport routes behind the lines.

It seems to me like 21st century warfare is a whole different animal - how hard would it be for a motivated, talented individual to figure out some simple attacks for the navigation systems on these vehicles, and get loads of sweet US munitions delivered to their doorstep? How effective would one of these vehicles be in an urban setting? How easy would it be to create a series of obstacles that would paralyze one of these vehicles?

It's amazing technology, for sure, and the Stanford and CMU teams deserve kudos. I'm just concerned that with the current rush to technological solutions and shift away from "boots on the ground", this technology will be in battle zones far too quickly.

Re:but would it work? (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020028)

On the other hand, with driver drones you can try all new tactics. Perhaps instead of a single well-established supply line, you can "swarm" the supplies into place with more, smaller vehicles. As for captured munitions, with no driver onboard, a remote destruct function becomes a possibility. Or maybe highly sensitive shipments like munitions will simply be trucked conventionally (by a person). That still leaves a lot of other stuff to move around.

Anyways, I wonder what percentage of military trucking worldwide is really conducted in a combat environment? At first maybe the robots will just drive from the port in friendly nation X to the rear lines of the battle. Just as civilian applications might initially be limited to driving between warehouses on the outskirts of cities, rather than in confined city streets.

I think reducing the number of boots on the ground is a good thing. Would it solve our present "Iraq problem"? No. But I would argue that's a problem with the mission. Nation building is inherently messy and, as Bush used to say before he was elected, should be avoided.

Re:but would it work? (1)

SpyPlane (733043) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020059)


how hard would it be for a motivated, talented individual to figure out some simple attacks for the navigation systems on these vehicles, and get loads of sweet US munitions delivered to their doorstep?


How hard? I would say next to impossible. Tricking the GPS system on board is impossible, while staying alive. You'd have to emulate enough GPS sats to give the vehicle improper coordinates (not only would these Satellite emulators have to work, but they would have to be synchronized properly, don't forget to emulate Doppler effects!). Even if you do trick the vehicle, you'll have to jam the other GPS satellites to make sure you are the signal it goes for. If you try jamming GPS, you'll get a HARM sent your way (bad news). If you are talking attacking the ACTUAL navigation system on board, that means you have physical access to the vehicle, which means there's no point for it to navigate to your house, you can just offload the goods. In that case, I bet they'd either let you have the goods (if it's water or something) or drop a bomb on you while you are unloading it (if it's something more sensitive).

Your next two questions are much more valid. Urban setting will be tough. The only benefit is at least there will be some form of road boundry to work off of. The open desert is much tougher in that regard, everything looks the damn same. I assume these systems will begin to be used in the more long haul type scenarios. Open highway with no buildings, but are really dangerous to drive because of ambushes and IED's.

Re:but would it work? (1)

odyaws (943577) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020065)

How effective would one of these vehicles be in an urban setting?
The word in the robotics community is that there will be another DARPA Grand Challenge, this time focused on urban driving. This should be a significantly harder problem, as if the first one wasn't hard enough!

I can see it now (1)

Vapon (740778) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019372)

Breaking News!!!

Virus outbreak causes cars to crash, responsible for thousands of deaths.

Re:I can see it now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019572)

News Flash^2

Legislation enacted prohibiting the use of MS Windows in automobiles

Re:I can see it now (1)

kadathseeker (937789) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020393)

Nothing could be worse than human drivers, especially the young and the elderly.

Sebastien Thrun's book (3, Informative)

jdduke (733610) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019387)

If anyone is really interested in the technical and mathematical side of this stuff, I definitely recommend Probabilistic Robotics [amazon.co.uk] by (among others) Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and leader of the winning team in this race.

Der Steppenwolf (1)

BodhiCat (925309) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019398)

Does anyone at DARPA, the Defense Department or any of the universities involved watch movies? Have they not seen the Terminator series? Haven't they read Harlan Ellison? Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf? Is this the start of the war between humans and machines? I think they need to require more reading and humanities credits for scientists and engineers. I can see myself in twenty years running from human hunting humvees in the national forest. What are we starting?

Re:Der Steppenwolf (1)

slcdb (317433) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019468)

What are we starting?
Don't you see? This is the beginnings of a grand scheme to unite all of mankind by creating a common enemy which will attempt to destroy us all. East and West, Communist and Capitalist, Arab and Israeli, Muslim and Christian -- all will have to unite against the evil that will be machines. And after the dust settles, we'll all live happily together. Or something.

Re:Der Steppenwolf (1)

thePig (964303) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019631)

Why would they hunt us?
What is the issue with the m/c becoming self-aware?

For humans, it is essential to fight with others (human or otherwise) to have enough space for survival.
So, this is implanted in our genes, that we fight.. or hunt or whatever.

But in robots, unless we specifically code to attack humans, they do *not* have any reason to do that. It is not in their genes*, anyhow.

Even replicating - even that is not in their genes..
So there is no isse of them becoming self-aware.

We shouldnt try to see in them, an image of us.

Airs on PBS Tuesday, March 28 (1)

demonbug (309515) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019491)

Something that could have been brought to my attention yesterday!

Seriously though, I'd been hoping someone would be putting together something like this (though I'd been expecting it form Discovery or TLC - yay for public television). Fortunately, it is available online [pbs.org] for those of us who missed it.

Re:Airs on PBS Tuesday, March 28 (1)

aikon29 (563393) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019717)

It would have been nice if this were mentioned yesterday, but luckily I was flipping through the channels right before this came on and caught it. In HD no less!

Re:Airs on PBS Tuesday, March 28 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15020241)

Check your PBS schedule here: http://www.pbs.org/tvschedules/ [pbs.org]

I'm sure they will replay it. Dear god man, do you know how many times I've seen "Jewel of the Earth"?

of course (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019570)

Obligatory Simpsons Quote:
"The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots. Thank you."
-- Military school Commandant's graduation address, "The Secret War of
      Lisa Simpson"

I work at Oshkosh Truck Corporation (TerraMax) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019637)

It was interesting to see. They didn't however show that TerraMax was paused by officals many times, because of other robots broke down or in the way of the TerraMax Truck. No saying we would have won, but we did have to stop until the next day, because of the pauses. Great job Stanley and all others for completing the race.

I saw this last night too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15019705)

It was a pretty interesting show but I was kind of disappointed with the concentration on the Stanford and Carnegie Mellon teams. The team I was most interested in was Team ENSCO - their car Dexter was leading at the half way point but unfortunately it hit something after 81 miles, bending the frame and causing a flat tire. I'm still a little disappointed they didn't win - the academic teams were very clearly the favorites going in to the race and even though ENSCO itself is a (somewhat) defence related company, everyone loves an underdog.

Very good NOVA documentary (1)

heroine (1220) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019746)

This was a very good NOVA documentary. It moved quickly and covered a lot of new ground in a short time, like the algorithms the robots used and the kinds of problems they solved, unlike most documentaries which repackage the same science anecdotes over and over or only discuss philosophy.

It wasn't as much the fact that Stanley won the race as how Stanley won the race and the differing approaches of the builders that made it interesting.

Unfortunately, it was not in HD. It was widescreen low definition. They can get robots to drive 120 miles but they still can't get HD.

Robot Wars (3, Funny)

s31523 (926314) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019771)

At what point do the robots turn on each other and try to smash one another with saws, hammers and spikes? Wait, I think that is a different show...

Some Random Thoughts about This (1)

slcdb (317433) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019822)

I watched this show when it aired last night. I'd actually been looking forward to it quite a bit since seeing a preview for it a week or so ago. Is it just me, or is Nova possibly the best show on television? I don't get so interested in every subject they cover, so I don't watch it all the time, but, I must say, every episode I have seen has been excellent. We could use more television like this, and a lot less American Idol and other BS.

There was nothing quite like seeing, for the first time in my life, real vehicles, weighing multiple tons, driving completely by themselves. Awe-inspiring stuff to catch a glimpse of the future like this. Even my wife (who is not geeky at all) really got interested in this show and was practically cheering when Stanley passed Highlander.

All this robotic car stuff is pretty slick. But, you know, I would have been so much more impressed to have seen one of the teams pull up in just a regular car with no special equipment, sensors, or modifications, and then watch they put a humanoid-like robot in the driver's seat to drive the car. How much longer before the tech advances to this step?

Excellent Show! (1)

supergeekmake-it-so. (671079) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019863)

While I didn't find the broadcast show as insightful as the original article in Scientific American article preciously posted, I did find the show very entertaining. It was interesting to see the different contestants, and the projects they spent so much time working on. I can honestly say I'm ready to have an automated vehicle. It will give me more time to do the things I like versus spending copious amounts of time on the road. Wouldn't it be cool to have mobile online access, and a vehicle to drive you from point a to b, and you get to be reading /. P-)

On the weekend of the race... (1)

kpainter (901021) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019958)

I was coming from Utah back to California. We had just stopped in Primm, NV to eat. Just after Primm, we saw what we thought was some crazy guy tearing up the desert after drinking way too much beer. The dust cloud behind this "guy" was incredible - I saw it from miles away. The vehicle was coming towards Primm from the California side and probable a mile off the freeway. As the vehicle past us, that thing was bouncing pretty good. I remember commenting to my girlfriend that that "his" suspension wasn't going to be the same after that. It wasn't until a couple of days later that I figured out what we had seen. Had I known, I would have stopped to watch and take pictures.

Details in the program (3, Insightful)

gcanyon (458998) | more than 7 years ago | (#15019993)

There were several points made in the program that I hadn't heard elsewhere (and I've been paying attention to the Grand Challenge since the initial press release).

  -- The teams get the GPS waypoints a few hours before the race. The waypoints are purposefully vague, so the robots have the choice of driving off a cliff (or into one) while still being within GPS parameters. This is supposed to prevent the race from reducing to "Who can follow GPS the best?" The Red Team had a group of what looked like 20 or 30 people who immediately sat down with the waypoints mapped out on satellite imagery, going through and adding waypoints of their own and adding speed commands for their robots. This seems to me to be a big violation of the spirit of the competition.
  -- The Red Team had two entries, which they programmed differently: one more aggressive, the other more conservative (on speed). The faster robot, Highlander, was pulling away from Stanley for the first part of the race, until some unknown issue starting causing problems. Nova didn't say what was wrong, but it looked literally like Highlander was slipping out of gear and rolling back down hills. It _might_ have been doing it on purpose, i.e. a software glitch, but it didn't look that way.
  -- One of the Red Team's entries completed the last portion (the hardest portion) of the course with its main sensor non-functional -- it was stuck pointed 90 degrees to the side. This argues even more strongly that the Red Team's vehicles weren't doing much route-finding and were pretty much just following GPS waypoints.

The conclusion I draw from this is that we are still a long way from the DOD's goal of autonomous transport vehicles. In a combat situation, transports need to be able to avoid obstacles put in their way _by the enemy_. The only time during this challenge that the vehicles did anything like this was during the initial trials before the race, and that was very limited. The actual race course was hard -- off-road, dirt, narrow, slippery -- but it didn't have tank traps painted the same color as the dirt they rest on. It didn't have razor-wire barricades, forcing the cars to figure out a route through the bushes around them.

I'm confident that if I had been on the course fifteen minutes before the cars showed up, I could have stalled or disabled all of them. Pile a bunch of bushes across the road and all of them would have stopped. During the trials and race, none of them demonstrated the ability to work around such a very limited obstacle.

All of this is not to minimize what was accomplished. But we're a long way from sitting back sipping champagne while robots do the dirty work of war.

Re:Details in the program (1)

Rick.C (626083) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020282)

-- One of the Red Team's entries completed the last portion (the hardest portion) of the course with its main sensor non-functional -- it was stuck pointed 90 degrees to the side. This argues even more strongly that the Red Team's vehicles weren't doing much route-finding and were pretty much just following GPS waypoints.

Your point is certainly valid, but also consider that a robot with backup systems that rely on totally different strategies will have a better chance of success when (not "if") something goes wrong.

The "just following GPS waypoints" strategy got it across the finish line, albeit in second place. At least it finished.

David vs Goliath (1)

TimothyJones (954047) | more than 7 years ago | (#15020025)

Most interesting stuff. I was glad to see "Stanley" win. The "Highlander" and "Sandstorm" obviously had a lot of tech in them but "Stan" was clearily more reflective of the challange's merit - create a robot that can make decisions. The Red team crammed their vehicles with so much data it was like programming a production line robot. Yeah, it was a robot and a damn impressive one at that, but "Stan" could and had to actually decide things - and it did too. The idea of the laser + video overlay was most brilliant. While watching the program I could not help but been thrown back to those 80's films where the underdogs try to save some place against a heavy muscle of well oiled, militarily organized, and funded up the wazoo industrial juggernaut. Not trying to put down the Red team, obviously a brilliant bunch, but the VW was way [i]brilliant-er[/i].
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