Caterpillar-sponsored team takes first at robotic race

RP news wires, Noria Corporation
The Caterpillar Inc. sponsored robotic vehicle of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) was awarded first place at the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. The "Urban Challenge" featured autonomous ground vehicles maneuvering in a mock city environment, executing simulated military supply missions while merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections and avoiding obstacles. The vehicles had six hours to complete the 60-mile course. The challenge is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to help the Defense Department develop a fleet of autonomous ground vehicles to improve troop safety.

CMU received the $2 million cash prize along with the recognition as a national leader in robotic engineering. CMU's "Tartan Racing" victory was based on three criteria: data collected during the competition, race time and its ability to comply with California traffic laws.

"Team Caterpillar is tremendously proud to be involved as a sponsor of CMU's Tartan Racing team. This victory represents what can happen when business and academia combine forces and work toward a shared goal of advancing technology," said Tana Utley, vice president of Caterpillar's Technology & Solutions Division and the company's chief technology officer.

As part of the sponsorship, Caterpillar provides advanced technologies such as drive-by-wire steering, sensing and software. Additionally, Caterpillar has an embedded engineer working full time with CMU's "Tartan Racing" team. Electronics control the engines and Caterpillar's MorElectric(TM) system generates the electrical power and air conditioning for the on-board navigation, control and guidance systems.

The "Tartan Racing" team is led by Carnegie Mellon robotics professor William "Red" Whittaker.

"Because Caterpillar is in the business of developing innovative equipment to perform in rugged work conditions, this partnership made perfect sense," said Whittaker. "Tartan Racing's performance in the Urban Challenge left no questions unanswered. We out-performed everyone in the field with the best driving, maneuverability and speed."

Nearly 60 participants applied for this year's event with the field narrowed to eleven following a series of qualifying events.

Also receiving high honors was Caterpillar-sponsored Virginia Tech's "Victor Tango" and Oshkosh Truck's "TerraMax." Virginia Tech was awarded third place with a cash prize of $500,000, and Oshkosh was one of the 11 finalists.

"By aligning ourselves with the best and the brightest minds in the fields of science and engineering, Caterpillar continues to make progress possible here and around the world," said Utley.

The teams use a systems integration approach including: global positioning systems, sensors, lasers, radar, and other technologies that feed information to computers to guide the robot through the course.

The competition is an outgrowth of two previous DARPA autonomous vehicle competitions. The first Grand Challenge event was held in March 2004 and featured a 142-mile desert course. Fifteen autonomous ground vehicles attempted the course and no vehicle finished. In the 2005 Grand Challenge, four autonomous vehicles successfully completed a 132-mile desert route under the required 10-hour limit.

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