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ULL retires Cajunbot; robotics challenge now city, not desert

Friday June 29th 2007

The Associated Press

LAFAYETTE La. (AP) — A six-wheeled robot that twice made the finals in a hot national competition was officially retired then cannibalized for parts.

The robotics team at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette marked Cajunbot’s retirement with balloons and cake. Then members hauled out socket wrenches to remove sensors computer equipment and other items that helped Cajunbot make its way through the Mojave Desert in finals of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Grand Challenge.

Ray Majors who donated the amphibious vehicle on which Cajunbot was based said he’ll take the now stripped all-terrain vehicle patch some of the holes to which equipment had been attached and use it to hunt again.

The Defense Department is holding another challenge to spur innovation in unmanned autonomous vehicles for warfare. But this one is the Urban Challenge — rather than a desert course entrants must safely navigate city streets with traffic.

ULL’s Jeep-based Cajunbot II is among 50 entries which will be whittled down to 30 or 40 in August with finals in November said team leader Arun Lakhotia a professor at the university’s Center for Advanced Computer Studies.

A Defense Department team was in town Tuesday to check out Cajunbot II; Lakhotia said tests went flawlessly. A private team from Metairie was coming to town Thursday for a friendly competition. The teams figure they will both benefit from the practice Lakhotia said.

Robotics team turns from desert to Urban Challenge

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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CajunBot zooms ahead

UL team gives demonstration for DARPA
Marsha Sills
June 28 2007

"Change lanes."

"Looking very nice."

Arun Lakhotia almost whispers the commands to the bright red Jeep Wrangler navigating a stretch of asphalt at Cajun Field.

But it's not Lakhotia's words that guide the vehicle or the hands of a driver behind the wheel.

The Jeep is CajunBot II the autonomous vehicle designed by a team of students and researchers at UL for the Department of Defense's DARPA -Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

On Wednesday CajunBot II showed DARPA officials what it could do. The officials will decide in a few weeks which teams will compete in its Urban Challenge on Nov. 3.

The challenge was created three years ago to promote the development of autonomous vehicles that could perform defense duties - from scouting and armed defense to delivering supplies in war zones.

The team was one of 53 that DARPA officials are visiting to see which 30 will move on to the qualification event at the end of October. Those who qualify will then move onto the actual race where the top prize is $2 million with $1 million and $500 000 going to the second- and third-place finishers.

UL's team likely won't have an answer until August but will continue to work perfecting the vehicle's systems said Lakhotia a UL associate professor with the Center for Advanced Computer Studies. But the vehicle performed well for the federal visitors he said.

"I feel our runs were pretty much flawless. I don't know what reasons they could find to disqualify us now. Until we get a response we can't open the champagne. We're going to continue working and there's more capabilities that need to be developed before the challenge."

The selection was narrowed down from 100 teams said Scott Wilson another veteran CajunBot team member.

DARPA officials checked the vehicle's ability to follow the rules of the road - proper lane changes four-way stops following vehicles within a safe distance.

"Safety is one of the hardest things to plan for " Wilson said. "You have to assume that the other vehicle will be safe."

To see if the robot could hold its own on the road officials set up obstacle courses at Cajun Field. The robot had to first drive in a lane and stay in the lane without swerving in and out of the lined path.

It did.

Next parked vehicles blocked its path. Cajunbot had to maneuver around each parked truck and move back into its lane.

It did.

Then CajunBot showed how well it could obey the rules when at a four-way stop. Time after time CajunBot waited its turn and allowed the first vehicle that arrived to make its turn before turning and continuing to drive.

After each successful pause and turn onlookers applauded.

And a camera crew captured every frame of it.

The small production crew is filming the team's success as part of a Discovery Channel Science series on the technology and teams behind these driverless vehicles.

The UL team is one of 10 who will be featured for the series. Another Louisiana team - Team Gray of Metairie a private sector team that includes some students from Tulane University - will also be featured.

Team CajunBot was a shoo-in for inclusion in the series said Mark Marabella whose production company is filming the series for the network.

"We fell in love with Arun " Marabella said. "He was really funny."

For the team's tape submission to be a part of the series Lakhotia jumped out of the slow moving vehicle and proclaimed "Look Ma I'm not driving!"

But after spending its first day with the team it wasn't only the team's quirky leader that made UL's team so interesting Marabella said.

"They have so many undergrads who are part of the project. It's like a David and Goliath story " he said.

Marabella said one worry he had with doing the series on these high-tech teams would be that their stories would be too similar but after visiting a few already he said it's clear that each has their own personality and quirks.

"We were just at MIT. They were so stoic and it was all business. But they're (UL) are very relaxed. They're very communal " Marabella.

©The Lafayette Daily Advertiser
June 28 2007

ULL retires Cajunbot

Advocate Acadiana bureau
June 28 2007

LAFAYETTE -- When a local hero retired Wednesday there was no gold watcho r 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

©The Advocate
June 28 2007

CajunBot II takes test run

Robotic vehicle being prepared for competition

By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Advocate Acadiana bureau
Published: May 19 2007 - Page: 1ba

LAFAYETTE — At first glance the scene would not have looked too far out of the ordinary.

The red Jeep drove through an impromptu track set up in the parking lot of the old Evangeline Downs.

But a closer look would have revealed an array of electronic equipment antennas and sensors on top of the Jeep — and inside no driver.

That’s right CajunBot — the robotic vehicle built by students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette — is back and has a new look.

Gone is the old six-wheeled all-terrain hunting vehicle that competed in the finals of the 2004 and 2005 Grand Challenge — an event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense designed to spur innovations in autonomous vehicles.

None of the 13 vehicles finished the 2004 desert course. The next year a team from Stanford University won.

While those events were held on a desert course the 2007 event — called this year the Urban Challenge — will be in an urban setting meant to simulate a military supply mission through city streets.

That means CajunBot II will have to operate in traffic obeying traffic rules avoiding obstacles and finding the quickest route from point to point.

CajunBot II is “smarter ” with upgraded sensors and bigger on-board computers said Arun Lakhotia with ULL’s Center for Advanced Computer Studies.

Team CajunBot put the vehicle through the motions Friday for a group that included media and university officials.

The practice run simulated some of the tasks CajunBot II must perform when Urban Challenge representatives visit Lafayette at the end of June to see whether the vehicle will make the next round of cuts.

CajunBot II ran flawlessly Friday through a layout of a city street grid marked by little orange flags.

One team member was so confident in the robotic vehicle’s ability to sense obstacles he volunteered his car to be parked on one of the simulated streets.

On cue Cajunbot II slowed then stopped when approaching the parked car before it passed the obstacle and continued on.

When a new set of sensors arrives the team will work on programming CajunBot to be able to navigate moving traffic — one of the Grand Challenge requirements Lakhotia said.

Team CajunBot is already looking to the future.

Students studying industrial design have come up with a CajunBot concept vehicle built on a Jeep frame but with a sleeker body and a fiberglass roof hatch that raises and lowers in order for the computer equipment to be placed inside.

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