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15 Teams Qualify for Mojave Robot Race

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ANAHEIM, Calif. March 12, 2004; Elliot Spagat writing for the AP reported thast fifteen teams qualified for Saturday's $1 million self-navigating robot race across the Mojave Desert, though more than half failed to complete a flat, 1.36-mile obstacle course during trials.

A total of seven unmanned vehicles -- ranging from dune buggies to a 16-ton truck -- finished the course, which was sprinkled with gravel pits, metal rods and other barriers, in qualifying runs this week.

The race is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon's research and development arm, and trials were held Monday through Thursday at the California Speedway in Fontana, east of Los Angeles.

DARPA's key criteria in winnowing the filed was whether vehicles posed risks to humans or the environment, said agency spokeswoman Jan Walker. A total of 25 vehicles had been invited to the qualifying rounds.

Qualifiers that finished the course were:

-- Red Team, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh.

-- Team Caltech, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

-- Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.

-- Digital Auto Drive, Morgan Hill, Calif.

-- SciAutonics II, SciAutonics LLC and Elbit Systems Inc., Thousand Oaks, Calif.

-- Team TerraMax, Oshkosh Truck Corp., Oshkosh, Wis.

-- Axion Racing, Westlake Village, Calif.

Contestants that didn't finish the practice course but still qualified are:

-- Blue Team, Anthony Levandowski, Berkeley, Calif.

-- Palos Verdes High School, Palos Verdes, Calif.

-- Golem Group, Richard Mason, Santa Monica, Calif.

-- Team Terrahawk, Terra Engineering, Gardena, Calif.

-- SciAutonics I, SciAutonics LLC, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

-- CIMAR, University of Florida and Autonomous Solutions Inc., Gainesville, Fla., and Logan, Utah.

-- Team CajunBot, University of Louisiana, Lafayette, La.

-- Team Ensco, Ensco Inc., Falls Church, Va.

On Saturday, DARPA will award $1 million to the first team whose vehicle can cover a rugged desert course of at least 150 miles from Barstow, Calif., to Primm, Nev., in less than 10 hours.

If no one finishes on time -- a likely outcome, many participants say -- the agency will host another contest, probably in 2006.

The vehicles in the so-called Grand Challenge, part of Pentagon efforts to have one-third of all ground vehicles unmanned by 2015, cannot be controlled remotely -- they have to navigate by themselves.

Two hours before the race, competitors will be given a CD-ROM with Global Positioning System coordinates that chart the eastward course.

To ensure safety, each contestant will be followed by another vehicle, with a judge ready to hit a kill switch if the robot goes astray.