Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Grander Challenge

The winners of last year's Pentagon-sponsored robot race have been given a higher bar to hurdle ---  develop a vehicle that can drive through congested city traffic all by itself. They "will have to navigate a complex 60-mile test course designed like a real city street filled with moving manned and unmanned vehicles ... make sharp turns, navigate traffic circles and avoid obstacles such as utility poles, trees and parked cars ... obey traffic laws, change lanes, merge with moving cars and pull into a parking lot using only their computer brain and sensors."

The technical name for it is the 2007 Urban Challenge "which is also known as the DARPA Urban Challenge, will take place on November 3, 2007. The location of the event is not announced until the qualification process is complete. The course will involve a 60-mile urban area course, to be completed in fewer than 6 hours. Rules will include the obeying of traffic laws while negotiating other traffic and obstacles and merging into traffic." A PDF describing the event can be found here.


If this technology ever proves out we can have self-driving vehicles that will essentially function as chauffeured vehicles. You probably wouldn't need to know how to drive to own a car. This would benefit the elderly and the infirm and probably increase the utilization of existing vehicles to make it possible for a two car family to make do with one, simply because the vehicle can be on the road when one passenger is spending time at a destination. Of course it would also give a wholly different meaning to the words "VBIED", but sigh, there's always the good with the bad in technical progress.


Blogger Teresita said...

Of course it would also give a wholly different meaning to the words "VBIED", but sigh, there's always the good with the bad in technical progress.

The challenge after this one (2008) will be a robot sniper who pokes its head out of the sunroof of the winning robot car and shoots anyone who looks like they're got something to hide. We'll put a whole fleet of these car/robot combos on the streets of Baghdad and bring all the troops home in time for the Presidential elections. This development parallels the evolution of space travel where after losing 14 astronauts we substitute robots to drive around on planets instead.

10/03/2006 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger Jamie Irons said...


...make sharp turns, navigate traffic circles and avoid obstacles such as utility poles, trees and parked cars ... obey traffic laws, change lanes, merge with moving cars and pull into a parking...

I pass dozens of "drivers" every day on my way to work who, handicapped as they are by lattes, cigarettes, laptops, iPods, cell phones and various other appurtenances of the modern (wo)man, are wholly unable to accomplish such feats as these...

Jamie Irons

10/03/2006 09:46:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

This should be very interesting. Just having a terrain map embedded in a vehicle and GPS way points will no longer due.

10/03/2006 11:51:00 PM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

Every few months, the art/science of Robotics takes another incremental step. By 2030, "intelligence" will have arisen as "emergent order" in the form of globally-networked sentience-- indefinable, ineluctable, indestructible. Self-driving autos are a link in this chain, but beware: Innovations of this magnitude invariably have consequences not only unforeseen but unforeseeable.

What we really need is access to the Third Dimension: Flight. Bring on cold-fusion, super-conducting anti-gravity belts NOW. By 2030, of course, rampant Muslos will demand that flea-infested camels be accorded equal time.

10/04/2006 05:58:00 AM  
Blogger 3Case said...

Think of it! You could send the car to Outback to get dinner! Turn the heat up in the interior to keep your steaks n' veggies warm...just how do we keep the Bloomin' Onion crisp. Dessrt n' salads would go in the unheated trunk, of course.

10/04/2006 06:04:00 AM  
Blogger geoffgo said...


Of course, by that time, Outback will use its own "smart scooter" to deliver.

10/04/2006 06:25:00 AM  
Blogger vbwyrde said...

Combined with AI advancements, nano-technology, stem cell research among others - the possibility/probability of serious consequences rises a notch each year. What happens when the Robo-Cars are hijacked by a virus AI that starts crashing ALL of them in a given region? What happens if the Robo-Soldiers contract an AI Virus? Terminator comes to mind. Except the retarded idea that anyone would survive an attack by SkyNet and be able to build a time machine to save us is ... well, retarded. Actually, we would all simply be dead. Period.

Not to be despairing about advanced technology. My point instead is that these technologies require - repeat REQUIRE - development planning and controls that would prohibit the worst case scenarios.

Unfortunately, our societ with its focus on pell-mell grab-what-you-can development leads me to wonder if any controls are being even so much as contemplated. The answer: no. Asimov would not approve. Arthur C. Clark is grimacing. The entire promise of advanced technology depended on a Rational Approach to development. Instead we got ... The Business Imperative. The results remain to be seen. Let us hope for the best, but I'm building an AI Proof bunker with 2000 years worth of baked beans and donuts just in case. ewwww... never mind.

To my mind these are the REAL threats facing the human race in the 21st - 22nd Centuries. Really, I think we need to use the Terrorism threat as a catalyst, not substitute, for figuring out how we will manage the bigger more pressing problems facing us.

Robo-Death Squads on AI with Nano-Sensors and Internal-Nano-Munitions-Factories producing stem-cell derived Rhino-Gorrilla-Crocodile-Einstien Hunter-killers is not something that I look forward to very much. Geh.

10/04/2006 08:03:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

The most revolutionary part of this program is not the technology itself but rather the methodology of setting prizes for research goals. The genius of this is that it leverages 10 times more research bang for the research buck, eliminates the risk and gets dull bureaucrats out of the business of "picking a winner" apriori--since competitor can nauturally choose their own way of getting the prize.

I discuss the way congress has apprpriated money for a hydrogen prize--and how I wish the same thing would be done for water desalination here.

10/04/2006 09:08:00 AM  
Blogger skipsailing said...

yeah, yeah, all these so called obstacles are just fine but to really simulate a traffic situation the robot must be able to APPLY MASCARA while talking on the phone, listening to NPR and sipping a latte.

Its the mascara application task that will cause the most failures.

10/04/2006 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger 3Case said...


Would the Outback delivery smart scooter be programable to pull into my garage, thereby saving me the walk to the curb?


10/04/2006 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

I mean, seriously, this is a challenge that a lot of people couldn't meet. It takes a long time to train drivers to find their way about and stay out of trouble. If we're talking about Baghdad, these vehicles will become toys for teenagers to play with.

This kind of AI is not going to work without serious environment restrictions for a long time. I can picture self-chauffered cars on the interstate highways where the ruleset is closed. I can picture buses that follow prescribed routes, even opening the door for people. What I can't picture is anything that can deal with my own driving challenges. Trash trucks, detours, debris, block parties, drunken pedestrians, wobbly bicycles, kids on skateboards, footballs in the street, potholes, broken glass, cobblestones, trolley tracks, dogs, deer, road repair, black ice, slush puddles, children in leaf piles, incorrect addresses, disconnected street names, five-point intersections, missing stop signs, obscured stop signs, downed wires, flashing yellow lights, missing signal lights, gridlock, rush-hour rule changes, one lane bridges, wide loads, funeral processions, double parking, rule-breakers, lunatics, emergency vehicles, accidents, predatory tow trucks, merge lanes, lane changes, map errors, shore traffic, flagmen, flags on cars, uncharted deadends, loop streets, motorcycle gangs, police stops, downed branches and trees, mudslides, crosswalks, wheelchairs, inept or improptu traffic controllers, Segways, heelies, racoons, rocks, bears, kids on the overpass, faded lane markings, modified lane changes, missing reflecters, fog, tire changers, street repair shops, window "washers", parking. I think that for now, our jobs are safe.

10/04/2006 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger herb said...

Lexus already is marketing a self parking car. (Their high end (sic)) sedan. This aint all that far out.

10/04/2006 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger Arthur Dent said...

I don't buy into the singularity meme.

Of course everything is advancing at a huge rate. Advancing advances need civilization. Where the 'singularity' is going vertical is within loser nations who create nothing but are able to buy power.

'They' are going vertical because they are starting from zero. 'They' are 60 years behind.

In the first world, knowledge is so compartmentalized as to be a foreign language. Then again singularities are prone to come apart over time.

10/04/2006 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger ppab said...

Re: the threats that surprise us as they spring forth out of new technology

When someone can make a bioweapon in their garage, someone can make a vaccine at their desk, and send it for fabrication in hundreds of other garages.

If new capabilities are unprecedented in their potential to threaten us, I think its imperative to develop a capacity to respond in-a-box. Or rather, a kind of adaptation-in-a-box, that will allow us to rapidly deal with the unforeseen, as there are always numerous options for dealing with a problem, but its selecting the response and implementing it that's the problem.

Avian flu science and industry being bottlenecked through congressional committees comes to mind. Also the Katrina response. If we get good at managing the boogeyman, as a commenter described, I think that makes the world alot safer, while protecting free enterprise by creating a whole new one.

10/04/2006 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Catherine, That would be your part of the world. Sounds like you might have a list of your own. For one thing, we don't have hitchhikers. How about tractors and Amish buggies? Actually, I have stopped for duck crossings and horses. Drag races are usually after my bedtime. Kids on four wheelers coming out of blind alleys, I've had to deal with that. Psychotic women pushing baby strollers in the middle of the road, gunshot victim lying in the road, double parking in the medial strip, stickball games, loose rolls of spring steel unraveling into the road, beer can bowlers, bottomless puddles, house movers, lawn crews, motorized wheelchairs, protest marchers, fords, grated bridges, covered bridges, parking lot gates, toll gates, newspaper hawkers, moonies selling roses, thank-you-ma'ams, open sewer pipe ditches, water main breaks. Hey, I don't even drive that much. Maybe I'm just lucky. But human type people negotiate the same sort of problems every day without too much difficulty. I can't imagine that a robot could deal with it all. If your solution is to just hit the brakes every time your see something, you'll never get anywhere. Humans can tell when an obstruction can be ignored. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is stop.

10/04/2006 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

It is obvious that we are preparing for a Clash of Civilizations that will cut off our supply of taxi drivers.

When Hollywood figures this out you can expect a remake of "Taxi" featuring Louie Depalma and a bunch of robots who look like Arnold Swarezengovenor.

Expect the DARPA challenge next year to include making change while running a Slurpee machine. The 7/11's will be the next battleground after the cabs.

I still can't figure out why no one has taken the Mars Rover concept and produced a solar powered autonomous lawnmower. Slightly modified versions could be used to patrol the Border. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs must both be in a coma.

Stephen Macklin: I was thinking almost the same thing, but the Wilson Bridge instead, preferably with an accident involving 3 semi trucks on the bridge and with a 100 car Police Funeral coming off Route 50 onto the Beltway at the same time. There were times on the way home to Alexandria that I thought I was going to have to get a motel room in Maryland.

10/05/2006 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

I forgot about funeral processions at red lights. A robot would try to cross before each successive member of the procession, not recognizing the collective identity of the procession, nor accepting its social prerogatives.

Anyway, ... so you're going to this fabulous party and you absolutely need to be there on time so that you can see what Bertha and Betty are wearing and tell them about the nature of Brunhilda's latest marriage problem. Your husband somehow manages to get lost in a twisty little mess of curvy little roads somewhere relatively pleasant but definitely not within earshot of Bertha and Betty. When he insists that he is not lost, please believe that he is telling the truth. Look at it this way, if you will chill and enjoy the scenery, you will come to understand that he is not a robot. Plus, you will have an exciting story to tell B&B at your next earliest opportunity.

10/06/2006 11:59:00 PM  

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