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Great Robot Race, The

Program Overview

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Robot vehicle NOVA follows the race to build an autonomous vehicle that can successfully complete a rugged, 212-kilometer course across the Nevada desert in the DARPA Grand Challenge 2005.

The program:

  • notes that the race sponsor, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), hopes the competition will help create unmanned vehicles that can be used by the military.

  • recalls the first Grand Challenge in 2004, in which the most successful vehicle—named Sandstorm and run by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)—only traveled 11 kilometers.

  • follows the CMU team as it prepares to run the race again this year with two entries, Sandstorm and H1ghlander, and a team of more than 100 members.

  • points out the major challenge of the race—developing a system that will allow the robot to see.

  • reviews the technologies used by some teams to help the robots see, including various laser range finders, such as a spinning laser, a laser mounted on a gimbal, and lasers combined with a video camera—all tied into software programmed to interpret data being received.

  • showcases the diversity of vehicles and teams entered into the race, including a standard truck entered by a team headed by two brothers who run an audio speaker company, a six-wheel-drive vehicle led by a consortium of defense contractors, and a motorcycle team led by a group of engineering students and recent grads.

  • contrasts the different approaches taken by a small Stanford University team with its entry, Stanley, to that of rival CMU.

  • documents the qualification rounds in which a field of 40 vehicles is narrowed to 20.

  • recounts the day of the race from when teams receive their course directions two hours before start time to the progress the vehicles make during their historic bids to complete the course.

  • reports on the five teams that finished the race and explores the implications of successful completion of the Grand Challenge.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Great Robot Race, The
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