Robotics team turns from desert to Urban Challenge

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By KEVIN BLANCHARD
Advocate Acadiana bureau
Published: Jun 28 2007 - Page: 1BA

LAFAYETTE — When a local hero retired Wednesday there was no gold
watch or bonus check just some balloons a cake — and then the
retiree was unceremoniously dismantled.  Cajunbot the little
six-wheeled amphibious robotic vehicle that twice made the finals of
the ultra-competitive Grand Challenge was officially retired
Wednesday making way for the younger sleeker Cajunbot II.  The
University of Louisiana at Lafayette team took some time from eating
cake Wednesday to put some socket wrenches to the little robot that
could removing the sensors computer equipment and other items that
helped Cajunbot navigate its way through the Mojave Desert during the
Grand Challenge.  This year’s event is called the Urban
Challenge. It’s again sponsored by a research arm of the
U.S. Department of Defense as a way to spur innovation in the
development of unmanned autonomous vehicles for warfare.  While
Cajunbot was designed to make it from point A to point B on a desert
course Cajunbot II is designed to safely navigate city streets with
traffic said team leader Arun Lakhotia a professor at ULL’s Center
for Advanced Computer Studies.  On Wednesday morning a Defense
Department team was in town to put Cajunbot II through the motions to
determine whether the Jeep-based robot will be invited to the
semifinals at a yet-to-be-announced site.  The 50 teams that have made
it this far through the process will be whittled down to 30 or 40 in
August Lakhotia said.  Fewer still will make it through to the
finals. Because all robots will be on the course at the same time for
the finals judges are being quite selective. One robot’s mistake can
end up crashing a lot of hard work for other teams Lakhotia said.
Wednesday’s testing went “flawlessly ” Lakhotia said.  This morning a
private team from Metairie will be in town with its entry — Team Gray
— to have a friendly competition with Cajunbot II.  The teams figure
they will both benefit from the practice Lakhotia said.  The Urban
Challenge is scheduled for November.  Ray Majors co-owner of
MedExpress Ambulance Service watched while the team stripped Cajunbot
down to its original six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle.  Majors donated
the amphibious vehicle to the team — he uses it to go duck hunting —
back in 2003. He said he’ll patch up some of the holes drilled to
attach all the necessary equipment and bring it out hunting again.
The little vehicle has had quite an interesting life Majors said.
Cajunbot has met the governor on the Capitol steps. The team drew
national attention during the Grand Challenge by competing with the
quirky little machine when other larger universities were entering
Hummer SUVs and large trucks.  The team also made friends in the
desert when it shipped in live crawfish and hosted a crawfish boil for
all the other teams from across the country.  Wednesday was no
different with the Discovery Channel on site taping an upcoming show
that will feature Cajunbot Cajunbot II and some of the other
prospective entries in the Urban Challenge Lakhotia said.

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