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Pentagon Plans Robot Race Rematch


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By Kyle Balluck Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2004; 12:16 PM

A rematch in the Pentagon's high-tech robot race is officially on.

The Defense Department's high-tech research arm confirmed earlier this month that it will organize a second competition to test autonomous robot technology. Teams sponsored by private companies, universities and individuals will compete to build a robot vehicle capable of navigating across a lengthy all-terrain course without any human controller.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said the next race will be held in October 2005, but officials are not yet releasing other details.

DARPA chief Anthony Tether said the top prize would be $2 million in the second race instead of the $1 million prize offered at this year's Grand Challenge, which was held in California's Mojave Desert in March. Race organizers will meet in Anaheim, Calif., in August to provide more information on the 2005 race.

U.S. Air Force Col. Jose Negron, the Grand Challenge project manager, said he expects as many as 500 teams to apply for the 2005 race. He said he has already received approximately 300 e-mail inquiries.

DARPA is promoting private-sector research into autonomous technology that one day may be deployed throughout the U.S. military. A congressional mandate calls for one-third of military ground vehicles to be driverless by 2015.

Fourteen vehicles from a field of more than 100 applicants qualified for the first Grand Challenge. None of the vehicles completed more than eight miles of the 142-mile course.

Negron labeled the first race a success because he said it accelerated research into autonomous vehicle technology and aided the Pentagon's efforts to "tap the ingenuity" of inventors and other groups that do not normally do business with the Defense Department.

He said the $12 million-plus that DARPA spent to organize the first Grand Challenge prompted participating teams to spend as much as $50 million researching autonomous vehicle technology.

The one Washington-area team that qualified for the first Grand Challenge is already working to design a vehicle for the 2005 event.

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