Urban Challenge

America’s research arm for their armed forces, DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency), has raised the bar – a lot – for next year’s Urban Challenge. The last Challenge issued by DARPA for 2005 was the Grand Challenge, which required competitors to build a vehicle capable of travelling completely autonomously 132 miles over desert terrain. The prize of $2 mio. was won by “Stanley”, a Volkswagen Touareg.

This time, people are being asked to compete in November 2007, for no cash prize at all (but up to a million dollars of up-front funding to develop the vehicles will be provided to each competitor after they submit a proposal to DARPA), to negotiate 60 miles on urban roads, with other traffic using the roads, obeying the traffic regulations. Additionally, the vehicles will have to perform maneuvers such as parking between vehicles, overtaking (but not if the other vehicles are waiting at a road junction), and U-turns. Here’s an excerpt from the rules:

The Urban Challenge course tests the vehicle’s ability to operate safely and effectively with other vehicles in and around an urban environment. The course will be nominally 60 miles in total distance, with a time objective of 6 hours. The road surface will range in quality from new pavement to potholes and broken pavement. Sections of dirt roads with low berms may also be encountered. The vehicle may negotiate sharp curbs, downed branches, traffic barrels, drains, hydrants, rocks, brush, construction equipment, concrete safety rails, power line poles, and other stationary items likely to be found in an urban environment. Vehicles will obey traffic laws as they negotiate traffic circles, intersections, and merge with moving traffic. Traffic on the route may be provided by manned vehicles, tele-operated vehicles, and other autonomous vehicles. Static vehicles may also be parked or stopped along the route. Roads may be blocked by DARPA during the course of the event. Trees and buildings along the route may interfere with GPS. Along some road segments there may be significant distances between waypoints, requiring vehicles to use their sensors to stay in the travel lane.

To complete the Urban Challenge, a vehicle must negotiate all hazards, re-plan for alternate routes, and avoid static and dynamic obstacles while completing a complex, multi-part mission at speeds of up to 30 mph, resulting in an average speed of at least 10 mph.