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Slashdot: DARPA “Grand Challenge” a Kick in the Pants?

For those less dorky than I, the DARPA Grand Challenge was a held last Saturday to see which autonomous vehicle could drive itself on a challenging 125-mile obstacle course through the desert first. Stanford’s Touareg, named “Stanley” came in first, just ahead of a Hummer and a Humvee from CMU, followed by a Ford Escape hybrid, and five hours later, Frankenstein.

I had of course, been rooting for Team Underdawg, but after some accidents and bugs, they did not make it through the Qualifier. So, I rooted for Cajunbot, a cute little six-wheel ORV from Louisiana, but that vehicle did not get so far either . . . in the end, at least, the Hummer didn’t win, so there’s one less reason for assh!les with small penises to buy ginormous SUVs. Yay Stanley!

Curt relayed this message that was posted to Slashdot, which I found very amusing/insightful/interesting:

As a team leader of one of the teams eliminated at the NQE [overbot.com], I didn’t see any visible favoritism by the DARPA staff. The teams that went to Primm are the teams that should have gone.

Funding is more of an issue. Teams were supposed to have no Government funding whatsoever, either direct or indirect. Yet MITRE had a team, and they’re a quasi-governmental agency. [nara.gov] CMU has received DARPA robotics contracts for years, as has Stanford. Red Whittaker of the CMU team is still the principal investigator on a NASA grant (#NAG5-12890) until February 2006. Stanford used software developed under DoD contract, although anyone can download it and they asked DARPA for permission. It’s more of a revolving-door issue than direct diversion of Government funds.

But the real incentive for the big university teams was fear. If Joe’s Auto Parts fielded a better robot than some university getting $20 million a year in robotics funding from DARPA, DARPA might well pull the plug on the school. CMU faced that prospect; originally, they weren’t going to enter the Grand Challenge at all. The whole Grand Challenge was created because of unhappiness at DARPA with the rate of progress in mobile robotics. DARPA has been pouring robotics money into CMU and Stanford for thirty years, without getting much back. The head of DARPA, Dr. Tony Tether, decided that it was time to do something about that. It worked.

HEHEHEHE . . . sneaky Pentagon! Spending $2 million on a fun contests so that they might get something from their $20 million / year in past funding. I guess if you really want results, you need to make things fun. :)

Maybe Team Underdawg is actually a stick, with which DARPA threatened to beat the Universities.

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