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.