The new DARPA
Urban Challenge will be quite a change from the previous two Grand
Challenge competitions. Nelson Bridwell
has sent us a few observations on the emerging details of the new
competition that he gleaned from documents
released on the Federal Business Opportunities website. Among other
changes, it appears only full-size, stock automotive vehicles can be
used as the basis of the robots. And this time teams will be allowed
only 5 minutes to load the mission data from a supplied USB 2.0 flash
drive into their robots, eliminating any chances for human optimization
of the data. A
draft version of the rules (PDF format) was released yesterday as
well. Read on for more details and Nelson's comments.
Quotes from DARPA are in italics. Nelson's comments are bold.
"Vehicle must be built upon a full-size stock chassis or have a
documented safety record. Vehicles smaller than a midsize commercial
automobile do not meet this requirement. Golf cart-type or all terrain
vehicles (ATVs) do not meet this requirement."
No more GhostRiders, CyberRiders, or golf carts!
"Vehicle must be capable of loading a mission description file via a
standard USB 2.0 flash drive." "The vehicle will have 5 minutes to
process a mission description before attempting the course."
No more marathon pre-race micromanagement in the planning trailer by
a herd of grad students!
"The following behaviors or capabilities are outside the scope of
this program: Recognition of external traffic signals such as traffic
lights and stop signs through the use of sensors. The Urban Challenge
route network definition file will include information such as stop sign
locations, nominal lane width, lane markings, and parking spot
It might be possible to accomplish with minimal (if any) vision
"To complete the requirements for the Urban Challenge, each vehicle
will complete multiple missions over a defined route network. The route
network definition specifies accessible roads and all areas in which the
vehicle may travel. A mission is a series of checkpoint locations that
must be passed over sequentially by the vehicle. The path between
checkpoints is not specified."
"DARPA will provide the Route Network Definition File (RNDF) that
includes all accessible road segments and provides information such as
waypoints, stop sign locations, lane widths, checkpoint locations, and
parking spot locations. The route network has no implied start or end
points. Road blockages will not be indicated in the RNDF."
"DARPA will also provide a Mission Data File (MDF) containing the
checkpoints that must be reached and maximum and minimum speed limits
for the road segments. MDFs will be provided by DARPA for all Urban
Challenge test events."
So automated planning and re-planning will be a major focus of this
On Saturday, at the meeting with DARPA in DC, it was announced that
currently and unless the language in the legislation was changed, DARPA
would not be able to award any cash prizes. In other words, in the worst
case scenario (they cannot get that language back in the bill), track B
winners will get a trophy. Track A people will be able to do the race as
they will be paid to do so.