DARPA Grand Challenge Podcast
DARPA Grand Challenge: Finally the podcast, more a soundseeing tour, of the DARPA Grand Challenge, the $2million race for "robotic" cars. Motoring history was made on Sat. October 8th as a converted Volkswagen Touareg became the first vehicle to successfully navigate itself round the course, 131.6 miles of the Mojave desert. DARPA, the advanced research wing of the US Department of Defense organised the race, but didn't directly fund any of the teams who entered the challenge. Given the obvious applications of robot vehicles in Iraq and elsewhere, in research teams the race delivered " a lot of bang for their buck" and I suspect will be a model of its kind.
So what's next? The USAF already has robotic flight well under development with unmanned planes like the Predator; though these are remotely controlled the time-lag in relaying commands means they posses a small degree of autonomy already. Autonomy on the ground is hard to accomplish..there will always be too many variables for much more than routine applications - or "leader follower" type systems where a human is in the loop directing a convoy. To my mind the obvious next step is the Navy. Under the sea, even at shallow depths, the terrain is pretty uniform, obstacles are few and easily avoided with the same 3 dimensional possibilities available to aeroplanes. Transport ships should be the first to be replaced by robotic "liberty ships" or for hi-value assets ,robot submarines. Next expect an anti-ship version of the Predator; a small nuclear powered robot submersible. Without a human crew it shouldn't need to dock or surface, and should be capabable of diving to much greater depths. And it will be much less expensive to build than conventional submarines.
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