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Hyderabadi in Pentagon research project

Monday Oct 22 2007

The Hindu 

M. Sai Gopal



Achievers All: Suresh with the robotic vehicle.

HYDERABAD: A Hyderabad-born research scientist at the University of Louisiana Suresh Golconda is part of a prestigious self-directed motor vehicle race traversing a tough course from Los-Angeles to Las Vegas a length of 336 kilometres of rough terrain.

The race dubbed as DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) Urban Challenge is a vehicle research and development programme of Pentagon the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence with the goal of developing technology to keep foot soldiers off the battleground and out of harm. The race is to take place in November.

Suresh Golconda who is leading the software division for Louisiana team along with his team had developed the robotic vehicle ‘CajunBot’ which was selected to take part in the race.

A 2002 pass-out from Muffakham Jah College of Engineering Mr. Suresh is the brain behind the robotic vehicle. “I am working on the brain of the robot which keeps track of environment makes high level plans on its own on what roads to follow to touch all checkpoints and then what actions to perform for movement on the road. Decisions like when where and how to turn change lanes follow lanes park vehicles merge into traffic and driving in parking lots ” Mr. Suresh told The Hindu in an email. Three more Indians including Arun Lakhotia Amit Puntambekar and U. Chandan are also a part of the 15-member team from the University of Louisiana to take part in the race.

Proud of contribution

The four members of the team are quite proud of the ‘Indian contribution’ to the ongoing Pentagon programme to develop unmanned robotic vehicles. “Except for Chandan we three were also part of the race last held in 2005. Being Indians we are proud to be associated with such a path-breaking project ever to be taken up. Last time around our vehicle stood at 6th position and we hope to better it this time around ” Mr. Arun pointed out.

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.

On the road to robot race

News.com: On the road to robot race 

October 4 2007 11:08 AM PDT

Team CajunBot based in Lafayette La. is a group of students and faculty from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The team retired CajunBot its six-wheeled vehicle that was a finalist in the two previous Grand Challenges and replaced it with Ragin'Bot a modified Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

Little did anyone know Team CajunBot didn't have any robotics experience before it entered the first race in 2004. The team has 11 core members plus another 6 roving helpers. Sponsored by sensor maker Ibeo Hewlett-Packard and the University of Lafayette among others the team's total budget for the 2007 race has been $350 000.

"Our biggest sponsor is the community of Acadiana. We are blessed with the support. We can walk into any store and people throw in free goodies or discounts " said Arun Lakhotia one of the team's members.

Team CajunBot is tackling the same problems as other teams: planning driving communications and the right hardware. But it considers the challenge primarily a software engineering one as opposed to a mechanical engineering electrical engineering or signal processing problem. "So our approach to overall problem solving is different. We have developed a virtual environment (like a computer game environment) to perform the majority of the testing " Lakhotia said.

Credit: Team CajunBot

Robots Rev Up for Darpa's Urban Challenge

Brock Read
August 10 2007

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has winnowed down the list of competitors in its upcoming Urban Challenge to 36 teams. And it’s no surprise that many of those squads hail from universities that performed well in 2005’s Grand Challenge Darpa’s pioneering robot race.

Stanford University took top honors in the 2005 competition edging out two self-driving vehicles from Carnegie Mellon University in a tense trek through the Mojave Desert. Those two institutions could be on track to square off again: Both have had vehicles selected as semifinalists in this year’s race which will take place in November on a decommissioned Air Force base in California.

Darpa officials chose the semifinalists after visiting more than 50 teams from across the country. The squads that made the cut — which also include robotics groups from Cornell University the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology among others — will compete in time trials just a week before the main event. The quickest 20 robots will then get a chance to compete for a prize pool worth $3.5-million.

©The Chronicle of Higher Education
August 10 2007

UL team vehicle to keep going

CajunBot will continue in competition

UL's Team CajunBot has another shot at the Department of Defense's DARPA Grand Challenge a $2 million race that promotes autonomous vehicle research for the military.

The UL team is one of 36 selected as semifinalists that will move on to the race's National Qualifying Event Oct. 26-31. During those days teams will have to prove that their vehicles are ready for the race - a 60-mile mock urban military delivery mission on the training base in Victorville Calif.

It's the third year that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has held the Grand Challenge. It began as a way to foster private research of autonomous vehicles that could be used on military missions.

UL's team CajunBot competed in the past two races which were over a desert terrain.

This year's race is moved to an urban setting. The teams are charged to complete the 60-mile mission within six hours.

The first to finish will win $2 million. Second prize is $1 million and third is worth $500 000.

Last year five teams completed the desert race. Only one of last year's five finishers - Team Gray of Metairie - sits in the top five as a semifinalist Tether said during a live Webcast on Thursday.

Team CajunBot gathered in the computer science building to watch the Webcast together but a technical problem prevented them from seeing their team photo flash across the screen with the other semifinalists.

The delayed notification didn't dampen the accomplishment.

To learn more about the race visit www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge.

Team CajunBot's site is at www.cajunbot.com.

©The Lafayette Daily Advertiser
August 10 2007

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