DARPA Grand Challenge/Virginia Tech two
Researched and refined, Virginia Tech's Cliff and Rocky are ready for
Grand Challenge victory
BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 30, 2005 - Equipped with the latest in
navigational and computer technology and programmed to fend for
themselves, Virginia Tech's "Cliff" and "Rocky" are among an elite
group of 43 autonomous vehicles rallying in California for the final
rounds of the $2 million DARPA Grand Challenge competition.
The Virginia Tech Grand Challenge team - most of them undergraduate
engineering students - have devoted much of the past year-and-a-half
to the research and development necessary for converting two
off-road, four-wheel-drive utility vehicles donated by Club Car into
vehicles programmed to navigate and maneuver with no human
Virginia Tech and Carnegie Mellon University are the only competitors
that each developed two vehicles selected for the final qualifying
event, which runs through Oct. 5 at the California Speedway in
"Cliff and Rocky have been thoroughly refined and tested," said
Charles Reinholtz, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Mechanical
Engineering (ME) and co-advisor, along with ME professor Alfred Wicks
and graduate student Brett Leedy, of the Virginia Tech team.
"We logged several hundred autonomous miles on each vehicle at our
test field in Blacksburg," Reinholtz said. The team also took Rocky
to the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona and ran it for
several days in a desert environment similar to the one vehicles must
navigate for the Grand Challenge.
The team whose vehicle completes the 150 mile course in the Mojave
Desert the fastest within a ten-hour time period - with no human
intervention allowed past the starting line - will win the $2 million
Early on in the qualifying event at the California Speedway, Cliff
and Rocky "passed the static and dynamic inspection without a hitch,"
Reinholtz said. All 43 vehicles will undergo inspections and a number
of track runs before judges narrow the field to 20 vehicles that will
go to the Grand Challenge starting line for the race on Oct. 8.
The race will take place in the desert and mountains near Primm, Nev.
The exact course, which will include desert roads, mountain paths and
dry lake beds, won't be revealed to the competing teams until two
hours before the race begins.
DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the research arm
of the U.S. Defense Department, narrowed an original field of 195
entries to a first round group of 118 teams earlier this year. During
the summer, DARPA technical staff conducted on-site visits to select
the 43 vehicles that would go to California for final qualifying. The
43 vehicles were developed by teams from universities, corporations,
engineering firms - and even a high school.
DARPA offered a prize of $1 million for the first Grand Challenge,
held in March 2004. Cliff, the 2004 Virginia Tech entry, was one of
only 15 out of an original field of 106 to qualify for the final
starting line cut last year. No vehicle traveled farther than about
seven miles during last year's competition.
The revamped Cliff and his counterpart Rocky are equipped with
on-board computers that communicate with advanced sensing technology,
including Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Geographical Information
System data, radar, laser rangefinders and thermal imaging cameras.
The team have programmed the vehicles to interpret terrain and make
all decisions about navigation, route planning and obstacle
"Our vehicles are much better this year for many reasons," said
Reinholtz. "We've added a computer vision system and have upgraded
the base vehicles and a number of key components, including
computers, scanning laser rangefinders, power distribution systems,
GPS and inertial navigation systems. We also added more on-board
diagnostic capability, so we're better able to solve problems and
DARPA's goal in sponsoring a second competition and increasing the
prize to $2 million is to continue to encourage university and
industry engineering teams to help develop unmanned vehicles that the
military can deploy in dangerous situations. The competing teams have
received no financial support from DARPA.
For more information about the Virginia Tech team and vehicles, visit
their web site at http://www.me.vt.edu/grandchallenge/. To follow the
competition from the qualifying round through the race, visit