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Press Release

Anne Watzman
Carnegie Mellon

Lee Woodward
AM General

For immediate release:
September 8, 2004

Carnegie Mellon University's Red Team Will Deploy New and Old HUMMERS for $2 Million Prize in 2005 Desert Race

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University's Red Team is developing two robots to compete for a $2 million, winner-take-all prize for the first autonomous vehicle to cross the Mojave Desert without human assistance on October. 8, 2005, in the second DARPA Grand Challenge.

AM General, producer of world-renowned HUMMERs, has donated two H1s to Carnegie Mellon as the foundation for the Red Team's new desert-racing robot team. The first of these, named "H1ghlander" arrived today. The team is outfitting H1ghlander with breakthrough technology to push the limits of machine autonomy and driverless racing performance. H1ghlander will race through the desert beside Sandstorm, the team's returning, time-tested veteran HUMMER, as these robotic teammates take on each other and all comers in the race that is galvanizing the future of robotics.

"AM General is pleased to be part of the DARPA Challenge in this way," said Lee Woodward, AM General spokesman. "We believe this interesting use of robotic technology will be useful to both us and Carnegie Mellon."

In the first Grand Challenge, completed on March 13, 2004, the Red Team fielded Sandstorm, an AM General-built, 1986 diesel-powered M998 military HMMWV. The vehicle was transformed by the team to accommodate computers, sensors, laser scanners and other equipment necessary for robotic navigation, sensing and planning.

Sandstorm led the field for 7.4 miles in the desert near Barstow, Calif., setting records for speed and distance before hanging up on the rocky berm of a road in the mountains. It was one of 13 robotic vehicles that attempted the 142-mile course from Barstow to Primm, Nev., for a $1 million prize that went unclaimed.

"HUMMER is our platform of choice for driverless desert racing," said Red Team leader William L. (Red) Whittaker, Fredkin Research Professor at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute. "Although Sandstorm will continue as a tried and trusty mule, the AM General alliance ushers in a new day. Red Team's flagships will be H1 Hummers with driverless navigation at the wheel."

The HUMMER H1 is a civilian version of AM General's original military vehicle, the HMMWV (pronounced Humvee®). The H1 contains many high-end features, including traction control, automated braking and electronic engine control that Sandstorm didn't have. The H1 incorporates an electronic CANbus, 6.5-liter, factory turbo-charged diesel engine and locking differentials, which were not available on Sandstorm. Drive-by-wire technology will be embedded in H1ghlander, rather than being added on, as was the case with the older vehicle.

Whittaker noted that AM General's contribution to the Red team represents a significant investment in the people and technology that are driving the state-of-the-art in autonomous land vehicles. "AM General deepens the team in preparation for the 2005 race," he said. "Additionally, the contribution empowers research whose benefits will transcend race day."

In addition to the profound challenges that nature presents in any desert race, Whittaker said the organizers promise to introduce additional obstacles like tank-traps to impede travel and smoke or dust to obscure vision.

For the second season, Whittaker taught a summer course in mobile robots, which he described as a springboard to current events. A fall course is under way to develop new race technology.

A week before the 2004 race, Sandstorm overturned during a test run in Nevada and had to be rebuilt from scratch. Despite that setback, it still went on to outperform the competition. In the first Grand Challenge, Sandstorm traveled the furthest and fastest of the field reaching top speeds of 36 miles per hour on a tough course. Sandstorm recently achieved a world-record test run in what the Red Team called the "Pittsburgh 150," a solo, high-mileage experiment on a Pittsburgh test course. Sandstorm has logged more than 1,000 cumulative miles of autonomous driving.

Whittaker said that the Red Team is creating a leap of technology for the new H1ghlander vehicle, a move he described as a high-risk, high-payoff strategy. It will be a race just to create the new machine and to ready it in time for the race. Alternately, "We won't add much to Sandstorm," he said. "Sandstorm was arguably the best of its breed, and there is much to say for going with solid, proven performance that can be tuned and tested for reliability. As the saying goes, îif it's not broke, don't fix it.'"

For more information on the Red Team, see:

For more information on AM General, see:


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