Human sports may have reached its asymptote. Because the robots are beginning to show their jacks. After the "Football Robot Cup", the show takes place this week at the "Urban Challenge". Thirty-five unmanned vehicle invaded a California (fictional) town. Objective: follow a urban route of 100 km in less than six hours in accordance with points of passage. Pedestrians, sidewalks, roundabouts, buildings, traps will not fail for batteries of sensors and embedded computers. After a few days of qualifying, the top 20 teams will compete in the final on a complicated route, Saturday. The whole with California fires against the background that threatened a time event.
Mobilize the best brains
End of the road, American military research agency Darpa, the organiser, has provided a lot of 2 million (EUR 1.4 million) to the first runner and 1 million in the second. The carrot is laughable for champions also at high, but it will delight the academic teams in competition.
Darpa has found a great way to mobilize the best brains in the country at low cost. And even beyond as the Germans, renowned Robotics, align four teams. The Agency placed the bar very high, aided by the success of the last edition this year. The first competition, in 2004, had seen none of the 15 candidates finish 230 km route in the California desert spaces. But a year later, the same teams had made considerable progress. Five unmanned vehicles crossed the same distance in less than ten hours after 50 turns, tracks of sand, tunnels or steep slopes. Stanford won first place at the podium. For some observers, Darpa has managed to make a comparison of the best technology by spending just $ 10 million. Agency researchers have also found there a means of pushing innovation in the military, naturally reluctant to cede their place to automatism. Darpa is based on the request of the US Congress to integrate into the business park of the US Army by 2015 one third of vehicles without driver. The participants are on their side a funding and a showcase to showcase their innovations. Some were already able to promote their technologies as Oshkosh Truck, the truck TerraMax has allowed to develop an automated pallet carrier.
As in Baghdad
This year, 35 robots are a challenge important since, for the first time, they will have to adapt to dynamic situations. Introducing the challenge to applicants in 2006, Darpa had not hesitated to call Baghdad as a reference. The site of the competition will be decommissioned US Air Force to Victorville base northeast of Los Angeles, on the edge of the Mojave desert. Robots will have to integrate into the urban traffic, avoid the cars, pedestrians, deadlocks, bad drivers while respecting the code of the road and red lights. All less than 30 kilometres per hour. Navigation software will have to even know recalculate their itinerary for bottling or stop before a car out of a garage without looking. Each offence will be penalized by points that embark the most valiant candidates.
The regulations masses of vehicles from 1 to 15 tons. The teams were armed with sensors optical or electromagnetic cars, 4 4 and a truck. In the trunk, calculators should primarily quickly to turn the navigation software. All will intensively use the GPS but accuracy will remain insufficient, and Darpa has warned that it may be hidden by trees or buildings. Researchers from MIT rely mainly on a camera and laser rangefinders. Those of Stanford couple inertia with 64 lasers and 5 radar plant reaching 5 cm of accuracy in position! All managed by two quadricoeurs. In reality, the difference will be in image treatment and artificial intelligence.
These technologies will rapidly integrate military systems, because they escape easier regulations. Civilian vehicles will not remain so far from these advances as OEMs such as Bosch and Valeo already studying similar systems. Manufacturers on the other hand believe that, if these automation cannot substitute for the civilian driver before a time, they help to make faster decisions.