The Race

As the race progressed Cornell's car did begin to exhibit even more sporadic behaviour and in particular it got very confused waiting at a right turn that caused a huge tailback as other cars waited for the forlorn looking vehicle to get a move on. Graciously, DARPA allowed the Cornell team to attend to its stricken car and perform what appeared to be a hard reset on its computer. With this done the car seemed to sort itself out and it returned to its slow trudge round the course. For a while it had been all too reminiscent of normal gridlock that passes for L.A. traffic, though. Maybe next time they should outfit the cars with horns and audio clips of drivers shouting at each other to get that real essence of urban driving.

Aside from Cornell's little hiccup all the cars still competing were motoring round quite comfortably but there were three clear leaders, Stanford, Tartan Racing, and VictorTango. Tartan Racing had been leading for most of the race and looked likely to win but much to everyone's surprise Stanford's Junior made up its deficit on the final mission and crossed the line first, with Carnegie coming in second and Virginia Tech third. Some time later, MIT also completed the course along with Cornell and Ben Franklin, though the latter two appeared to finish outside the allotted time.

However, the winner of the challenge wasn't necessarily decided by the order in which the cars crossed the line. It was up to DARPA to decide who they thought exhibited the most impressive driving performance and who met the challenge's criteria best. So, after a day's deliberation it was Carnegie Mellon's Tartan Racing team that was awarded overall first place. Stanford came in second and Virginia tech kept the third place it achieved in the race. However, ultimately, in an event like this, winning is only the cherry on top of the cake and the real achievement comes from completing the task successfully. So, a huge amount of praise must be extended to all the teams that completed the course.

So, with the third DARPA Challenge now completed, what does the future hold for autonomous ground vehicles? Well, early reports suggest that DARPA has no plans for another Grand Challenge as it feels the technology is now proven, so little benefit would be gained from holding further challenges. However, there's a good chance we will be seeing some of the technologies, that were being demonstrated, appearing in production cars over the coming years and, if that is the case, these are very exciting times indeed.

In fact, with cars now featuring dynamic cruise control and automatic parking, we're already starting down the route of fully autonomous vehicles. Who knows, maybe in ten years time we won't need to worry about how we get back from the pub because our cars will safely carry us home while we have a nice kip in the back. Hmmm, pub, now there's a good idea...

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