News Media Coverage

CajunBot to be featured on CNN show

As competition nears UL Lafayette engineering crew grabs media attention
Marsha Sills
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February 19 2004

LAFAYETTE - A $1 million prize is up for grabs in a race of autonomous robotic vehicles across the California and Nevada deserts but UL Lafayette's team is already grabbing some national attention from CNN's technology program NEXT.

The show's crew was on campus this week to film footage of the UL Lafayette team CajunBot prepping for its trip out West in the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Grand Challenge on March 13. The team is one of 25 that made the cut to compete in the race from Barstow Calif. to Las Vegas.

In a list of leading robotics teams vying for the prize the school from Lafayette stood out in the crowd said Marsha Walton NEXT's producer. While the program will also feature other teams CajunBot is the only site the program visited Walton said.

"Some names like Cal Tech and Carnegie Mellon were expected to be there but we were sort of looking for an underdog " Walton said Tuesday as she walked down Rex Street on the UL Lafayette campus. The show's crew included cameraman Adam Shumaker and correspondent Daniel Sieberg.

The six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle was developed by UL Lafayette's Center for Advanced Computer Studies. Professionals and students fill out the team led by Center for Advanced Computer Studies professors Arun Lakhotia and Charles Cavanaugh. The team has pulled many all-nighters over the past two months.

"They're all excited and energetic about it " Walton said.

Walton held the microphone as Sieberg interviewed the four mechanical engineering students who revamped CajunBot as part of their senior project. After getting called onto the project a month ago to work out some kinks in the vehicle's steering the group has vowed to make the trip out West for the race no matter what. The four students are raising money to join members from the computer engineering component of the team for the race.

"I think it's nice that it's ending in Vegas " student Patrick Harris joked with Sieberg on camera. "The famed Vegas Strip would be an ideal place to de-stress " he said.

But the students' work won't be over after the race William Emblom their mechanical engineering instructor told Sieberg. The next part of their project is sitting down and analyzing their design and making needed changes. The students' grade is riding on how well they do on the project Emblom said.

"If they win a million bucks do they get an A plus?" joked Sieberg.

Emblom laughed but didn't make any promises.

Harris agreed that the work isn't over if CajunBot makes it to Sin City. The 210-mile race ends on the outskirts of Las Vegas. If one of the robots doesn't finish the race within the 10-hour deadline the contest continues until there's a winner.

The team plans on flying out West on March 3 and plan to have test-runs before a final testing before the race. The whole team could still use financial help to get all the team members out to California to see the project through the race Lakhotia said. But CajunBot is ready for the trip. The vehicle is already decorated with school spirit Ragin' Cajun peppers. All it needs is the addition of the team's mascot a large red aluminum crawfish.

"That's about putting a light on Acadiana " Lakhotia said. "From a helicopter (over) the desert the only thing you will be able to see will be a crawfish."

Want to watch?
The CajunBot will be featured on CNN's technology show NEXT at 2 p.m. March 6. The show will re-air at 4 p.m. March 7.

For more information about the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Grand Challenge visit http://www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge.

To learn more about CajunBot or ways to help call Arun Lakhotia at (337) 482-6766.

©The Lafayette Daily Advertiser
February 19 2004

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