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Last Updated: Monday, 15 March, 2004, 11:17 GMT
Desert race too tough for robots
Sandstorm by Red Team Robot Racing, Darpa
Sandstorm travelled the furthest
In the end the desert challenge was just too grand.

None of the robots taking part in a 241km race across the Mojave Desert made it to the finish line.

The robots had 10 hours to complete the course but only four of the entrants got more than 8km before crashing or suffering crippling technical problems.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency organised the race to drive research into autonomous vehicles for the military.

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The Darpa Grand Challenge would have awarded a $1m prize to the makers of the first robot to complete the 241km course that wound its way from California to Nevada.

But the challenging terrain and the difficulty of building autonomous robots meant that the prize went unclaimed.

Darpa said that 15 robots were due to start the race but two were withdrawn before the event got under way.

The robots entered included custom-built vehicles as well as converted pick-up trucks, SUVs and a Humvee.

Of those that took part, a robot called Sandstorm, built by Red Team Robot Racing from Carnegie Mellon University, made it the furthest distance down the course.

Sandstorm travelled 11.91km (7.4 miles) before getting caught on an obstacle which caused its front wheels to catch fire.

Robot built by SciAutonics
An embankment ended SciAutonics II's race
SciAutonics II got almost as far. It travelled 10.78km (6.7 miles) before hitting an embankment and getting stranded.

The Digital Auto Drive robot made it to 9.6 km (6 miles) before sensor failure left it stranded and the Golem Group vehicle travelled 8.3km (5.2 miles) before a throttle problem ended its progress.

Many of the others managed to travel some distance down the course but some, such as the robot from Team CajunBot, did not make it out of the start area.

One robot, from Team Ensco, flipped over in the start area, suffered a fuel leak, and was removed from the course.

Some suffered broken brakes or axles or sensor problems that left them unable to use satellite guidance systems.

"It is tough terrain, it was a tough test," said Jan Walker, a spokewoman for Darpa, "We are very pleased some vehicles managed to travel five, six, even seven miles."

2006 re-run

In total 22 teams built robots for the race. Only seven of these completed a qualifying event arranged by Darpa two days before the official race.

However, Darpa changed the rules to allow some of those that did not complete the qualifying race to make it to the start line on race day.

It is planning to re-run the race in 2006.

Darpa positioned 10 tow trucks along the race course in anticipation of some robot vehicles needing help.

An audience of several hundred people turned out to watch the start of the race in Barstow, California.


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