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


3.08.2004

Tortoise vs. Autonomous Hummer 

SignOnSanDiego.com has posted an article about the Grand Challenge race starting this Saturday, noting some last-minute changes added to address mounting concerns about autonomous robots running amok through city freeways.
More than 100 robotics teams applied. Realizing that 100 robots racing across Southern California might be hard to manage, the agency cut the field to 25.

Also changed was the route, originally from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The idea of a pack of driverless vehicles roaring down Los Angeles freeways was deemed too ambitious for the current state of robotics technology.

Even with the empty quarter of the Mojave Desert between Barstow and the current finish line at Primm, Nev., DARPA is being careful. Judges will shadow each robot to make sure they don't run amok, or try to run each other off the road. Race rules require the robots to give the right of way to other vehicles.

And some fear that, at speeds that might reach 50 mph, the robots also pose a threat to the desert tortoise – a federally threatened species and the official state reptile of California. Sluggish after a winter of hibernation, the tortoises usually emerge from their burrows about this time of year.

Under orders from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, teams of biologists will sweep the race corridor before the competition, moving any tortoises out of harm's way and fencing their burrows until the robots pass.

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