Robot race

"NO DRIVR" reads the ontario license plate. "driven by Mac OS X" reads the fender of one Volkswagen Toureg. In comes another dust-covered Toureg with its play on the familiar Volkswagen line "Drivers not needed," the rear fender proclaims. Indeed it is almost correct. The vehicle has just become the first to traverse the 132-mile course with only a computer at the controls. Though it has logged more than a thousand miles in training its artificial intelligence system, the 132 that it logged on Saturday are historic.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) 2005 Grand Challenge filled the parking lot behind Buffalo Bills' in Primm, Nevada this weekend. I snapped a few photos of the first vehicles to complete the 132-mile desert course. In contrast to the 2004 Grand Challenge where the top teams managed only seven miles, 22 of the 23 finalists surpassed the seven-mile mark. Five teams finished the entire 132-mile course this year, although only four finished in the alloted 10-hour timeframe. 43 teams went to the National Qualification Event over the last two weeks. The teams competing had bots ranging in size from Blue Team's diminutive Ghostrider Robot a motorcycle based platform to the 16-ton green machine TerraMax.

Stanford's Stanley, a Volkswagen Toureg, completed the course in 6 hours 53 minutes and 58 seconds to win the challenge's $2 million purse. The race is a part of a Congressional initiative to have autonomous vehicles for the military by 2015.