CajunBot II on its way to California

October 18 2007
Jeep to race for $2M award

The 'bot that could win a $2 million race sponsored by the federal government leaves Lafayette today.

CajunBot II the Jeep UL researchers and students outfitted with a computerized system drives itself and negotiates traffic and rules of the road better than most licensed drivers.

On Wednesday the team members including their longtime supporters the Majors family readied the vehicle for its ride to Victorville Calif. where it will face off with autonomous vehicles built by masterminds from across the country.

The race is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency known as DARPA. It's the third year that the agency has sponsored the race to stimulate research and development of autonomous vehicles.

In the past the robots traversed desert terrain. This year they'll be tested in an urban environment.

The new terrain will be a challenge that the team will start training for when they arrive in California. The first test will be finding a place to take CajunBot for test runs.

"We want to test in the environment " said Arun Lakhotia a UL researcher and team leader. "We don't know how the sensors will behave in picking up the new environment."

CajunBot II is pitted against the other semi-finalists during a qualifying event Oct. 26-31. Those who qualify for the race will compete on race day on Nov. 3.

"It's getting everyone away from family and work and just to focus on the challenge " Lakhotia said. "There we'll have three days to focus on one thing."

The CajunBot team raced in the past two challenges with a model built on a stripped six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle. The Jeep body offers a more sturdy and reliable carriage.

"Every hour counts " said Suresh Golconda a UL research scientist and team member. "The last two years of experience were countless. It's not like building a Web site. It's multi-disciplined. It's not just software."

The team got its start with the first CajunBot. The vehicle was donated by the Majors family who have become part of the team helping with logistics and transportation - not to mention giving the team a taste of home with batches of crawfish etouffee.

The Rev. Ray Majors pastor of First Pentecostal Church in Melville became a part of the team's efforts in 2004 when he donated his ATV to the team. His son Danny Majors will once again drive the team to its destination. He'll join them in California before days before the race.

"It'll be the greatest gathering of brain power in the world " said Ray Majors of the race.

Another Louisiana team Team Gray of Metairie will also compete for a spot in the race next week.

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