History of DARPA Challenges DARPA's Challenges

In 2001, the U.S. Congress mandated that one-third of all ground vehicles in the U.S. Armed Forces be replaced with robotic vehicles by the year 2015.


Source: DARPA

The Department of Defense (DoD) quicklyrealized this deadline would be impossible to accomplish through traditional research and development models. The technical challenge wasn't insurmountable. After all, we have sent robots to Mars. Instead, the greatest challenge was the timeline. A solution needed to be developed at a lightning pace.

The director of DARPA , Dr. Tony Tether; believed the problem could be solved by enlisting the creativity and innovation of American inventors and entrepreneurs in the effort. Americans love challenge. Americans love competition. Thus, the DARPA Grand Challenge was born.

Grand Challenge 2004

Source: DARPA

In 2002, DARPA announced the first Grand Challenge: "Build a robotic vehicle able to travel unassisted on a predefined path of about 130 miles through the Mojave Desert. The fastest robot to navigate the course in less than 10 hours will take home $1 million." The first competition was scheduled in March 2004.

Team CajunBot quickly formed. A group of professors and students from the University of Louisiana banded together to take on the 2004 Challenge. The first CajunBot vehicle was ready within a few short months. It was built on a 6-wheeled all-terrain vehicle commonly used for hunting in the swamps and marshlands.

Team CajunBot, energized by the tremendous support from the Lafayette community, defied odds and competed successfully in the qualification rounds, earning a place among the 13 teams selected tos compete in the finals.

Source: DARPA
No team managed to complete the 2004 Grand Challenge course, but DARPA was encouraged by the results. It brought together engineers and inventors and managed to channel their energies into the development of important technologies designed to save American lives on the battlefield.

Grand Challenge 2005

In 2005 DARPA repeated the Challenge, fielded more than 198 team entries. Team CajunBot, again, successfully passed the qualification rounds and earned a place among 23 teams selected to compete in the finals.


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Source: DARPA


In the 2005 Grand Challenge, history was made as Stanford University's vehicle, Stanley , crossed the finish line after making the 132-mile course in 6 hours and 52 minutes.

As envisioned by DARPA, the 2004 and 2005 Grand Challenges successfully accelerated development of the core technology behind fully autonomous battlefield vehicles. But the technology was hardly battle ready.

Urban Challenge 2007


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Source: DARPA

Building on the success of previous challenges, DARPA has launched a new competition, dubbed the "Urban Challenge." The event took place in November 2007, set in Victorville, California.

The Urban Challenge required teams "to build a robotic vehicle that can operate in urban traffic, finding its own path while also following traffic rules".

 
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Each team was provided a GPS map of an urban cityscape, simulating military supply missions in an urban setting. Traveling among manned and robotic vehicle traffic, the team vehicles traveled through required points in the mock city. Teams were required to complete the 60-mile course safely in less than six hours.

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