CajunBot II sidelined in $2 million race

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Vehicle stumped on navigating neighborhood street

CajunBot II did what it could but it wasn't enough to please DARPA officials Wednesday.

The autonomous vehicle designed by UL students and researchers was sidelined late Wednesday ending the team's hopes of competing in its third race of the country's driverless vehicles.

The race is sponsored by the Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and was created about three years ago to spur private research in the area of autonomous vehicles.

On Saturday teams from across the country will race in Victorville Calif. for a $2 million prize.

For the past three days 35 teams have been testing round after round on a former military base in Victorville for one of the 20 spots in the final race.

But CajunBot II wasn't prepared for one of the obstacles - how to navigate smoothly and at the appropriate speed down a neighborhood street lined with parked vehicles on both sides of the lane.

The team scrambled to write a program to give the bot the capability but they needed more time to test it said Arun Lakhotia Team CajunBot leader.

At 1 a.m. Wednesday morning a code was written to help the vehicle negotiate the new obstacles and by 6 a.m. the new programming was in place.

"We had a comeback but we didn't have enough time to tune the perimeters " Lakhotia said. "It was a matter of tuning everything right. The key thing was we pulled it all together in time for this but for the tuning we needed more time."

On Saturday the Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's third race of autonomous vehicles will be held in Victorville Calif. While in the past two years the race has been held across desert terrain this year's challenge tests the vehicles' ability to navigate through city streets.

Earlier Wednesday CajunBot II showed that it could merge in and out of traffic circles. In that test it shared the roadway with five vehicles traveling in an inner loop and five in an outer loop. The team's Jeep Wrangler was able to merge in and out without any glitches.

Later in the day while testing its ability to navigate through the neighborhood the bot went off course.

"It's been a pretty amazing run " Lakhotia said. "It's been a difficult run. I knew it would be hard I didn't know it would be this hard."

The team worked through the past few days on too few hours of sleep and had last minute hiccups like the need for a new alternator.

Because of the degree of difficulty in this year's competition Lakhotia suspected that there may not be a full roster of 20 teams competing Saturday. The finalists will be named today.

The team will stick around to see the race play out on Saturday.

They'll also continue their tradition of serving their competitors spoonfuls of crawfish étouffée - courtesy of the Majors family - on Friday.

"We want to see how the others are doing " Lakhotia said. "We'll need to know what they did right and what they did wrong and we'll learn from them. We came here for the challenge and we want to see how it goes."