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"And the stars are projectors, yeah, projecting our lives down to this planet Earth." - Modest Mouse


3.10.2004

No Terminator Yet 

Apparently it's really really difficult to create an autonomous vehicle capable of navigating even the simplest of obstacle courses. Wired.com notes that DARPA has lowered the requirements for qualification in its Grand Challenge robot race. Still, the capacity for an autnomous bot to wreak havok is apparently not restricted by its inability to succesfully navigate the qualification course at the California Speedway.
The semi-autonomous Acura MDX, put together by the students at Palos Verdes High School, managed only about 50 yards during its first qualifying heat.

"The principal was in the stands," explained Greg Larson, a Palos Verdes parent who's helping to supervise the team. "And it veered and headed right towards the principal before it hit a wall. It was like something out of Animal House."

Nevertheless, the kids would be "going to Barstow," Darpa director Tony Tether announced Tuesday at the DarpaTech conference in Anaheim. So is the team from UC Berkeley, which admitted in their literature that the furthest their unmanned bike had traveled during testing was 150 feet. The squads from CalTech and Ohio State University were also allowed in, even though their drones did not complete the obstacle course.

After all, the race course is likely beyond the means of any drone to handle. So the California Speedway trials, he said, "are more for safety purposes."
DARPA's ultimate goal is to harness the creative genius of civilian robotics geeks for military purposes, but it looks like they're not going to realize their dream any time soon. Personally, manned military vehicles are dangerous enough. The last thing we need is some stripped-down HAL 9000 Humvee going rogue and rampaging through American cities hurling Stingers at mini-malls.

Well, maybe that wouldn't be so bad...

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