Maneuvering through traffic is rarely pleasant. Carnegie Mellon's Tartan Racing team is creating an autonomous vehicle that would do it for them.
The team is preparing for a November 2007 race sponsored by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, in which driverless vehicles navigate a test course that resembles a city street. In the short term, the experimental technology developed for the challenge could yield new devices that assist human drivers and improve highway safety.
"The biggest challenge will be to drive in traffic and stay on the road," said Chris Urmson, whose Tartan Racing team placed second and third with a converted Humvee and Hummer in DARPA's 2005 race across desert terrain. "It's a whole new level."
In partnership with General Motors Corp., Carnegie Mellon will enter an adapted Chevy Tahoe, which will be equipped with automated throttle, brakes and steering for computer control of physical motion.
Using only their computer brains and sensors, the autonomous vehicles will navigate a 60-mile course with sharp turns, traffic and obstacles, including trees, utility poles and other cars. The vehicles will also have to obey traffic laws, change lanes, merge with moving cars and pull into a parking lot.
The winner of the race - the vehicle completing the course the fastest in less than six hours - will be awarded a $2 million prize. Second and third place finishers will receive $500,000 and $250,000 respectively.
Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute is a recognized world leader in the field of robotics.