Drive for the prize
Posted by Daniel Hall on November 11, 2007
The purpose of the Darpa races has been to help build robot vehicles for the United States military by the middle of the next decade. Progress, however, has been so dramatic that the impact is likely to be felt soon and far more broadly, in the commercial automotive world and elsewhere.
I think the article illustrates the importance of harnessing research universities — with their mixture of academic experts, young fresh thinkers, and some healthy competitive rivalry — for the innovation process:
Not surprisingly, perhaps, robot personality quirks can mirror the individual styles of their human designers. And in this third annual race, sponsored by the Pentagon and now called the Darpa Urban Challenge, the leading machines also reflected a very human rivalry between two leading computer science and engineering schools.
From the West Coast, the Stanford Racing Team was led by Sebastian Thrun and Michael Montemerlo. Mr. Thrun heads the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and Mr. Montemerlo is a senior researcher at the lab. Before coming to Stanford, both scientists were robotics researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, where they worked with William L. Whittaker, a legendary roboticist known as Red. Mr. Thrun and Mr. Whittaker were Mr. Montemerlo’s thesis advisers.
From the East, Mr. Whittaker was one of the first people to propose vehicle races as a way to advance robotics. He has designed robots for tasks like clearing mines and exploring Mars.