Robo-racers to get trophies, not cash

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESurfer attacked by shark near Channel Islands calls rescue a ‘Christmas miracle’“I promise that the trophies will be given because I’ll personally buy them myself,” Tony Tether, DARPA’s director, told competitors earlier this year. The absence of a lucrative cash prize has forced some teams to retool their game plan and others to drop out. Some fear it would be harder to attract corporate sponsors and hurt media coverage of the race, which drew a throng of reporters last year and inspired a PBS documentary. “The icing on the cake is gone,” said Ivar Schoenmeyr, team leader of California-based Team CyberRider, which is retrofitting a Toyota Prius hybrid. DARPA has sponsored the cash-prize competitions to spur development of smart vehicles that could be used in the battlefield. The agency, which was created during the Cold War and is best known for research that led to the Internet, is under a congressional mandate to help cut casualties by having one-third of the military’s ground vehicles unmanned by 2015. Unlike previous races in which robotic vehicles had to conquer the rugged desert, next year’s challenge will test how well they can carry out a mock military supply mission through bottlenecked traffic. After Stanford University won a Pentagon robot race through the Mojave Desert last year, engineers and students hoisted an oversize $2 million check and poured bubbly champagne over their unmanned Volkswagen SUV. Next year’s winners won’t be as rich. The Pentagon’s research arm, which has twice hosted the high-tech contests since 2004, blames an obscure section in a defense spending law signed by President George W. Bush this week. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency believes the law prevents the agency from awarding the $2.7 million in prize money. So instead, DARPA will hand out shiny trophies to the top three teams whose smart vehicles can weave through congested city traffic without human help. The contest – to be held in November 2007 in an unnamed Western state – will test vehicles’ ability to navigate themselves through city traffic, obey traffic laws and make U-turns – all without causing an accident. Last year, the 195 teams that applied had to raise their own money. This year, 89 teams entered, including 11 that received up to $1 million each by DARPA to participate. The decision to fund some teams was independent of the prize loss.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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