September 29, 2005
Purdue to help sponsor Indy Robot Racing's autonomous vehicle
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Purdue University is contributing to sponsorship of the Indy Robot Racing Team, which is competing in the U.S. Department of Defense's autonomous vehicle qualifications race through Oct. 5.
Purdue University College of Engineering, College of Science, Krannert School of Management, Discovery Park, Graduate School and Office of the Provost will contribute a total of $50,000 to support the entry in the unmanned-vehicle race.
The project to develop unmanned vehicles is part of a congressional mandate that by 2015 one-third of all military vehicles will be autonomous.
"The whole idea of designing and developing an unmanned vehicle has captured the imagination of people across the nation," said Mark Smith, head and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue. "There are two reasons for this: because the applications for an unmanned vehicle are so vast, and the challenge is so interesting.
"Research into autonomous vehicles will change the way we get from one place to another. There are the possibilities for space explorations, rescue missions, taxi services, personal travel and many others."
The unmanned vehicle race is called the DARPA Grand Challenge. DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The competition challenges vehicle designers in the public and private sectors to create an autonomous vehicle that can successfully negotiate a 150-mile field test across California's Mojave Desert with obstacles placed in its path. The contest comes with $2 million in prize money.
The Indy Robot Racing team consists of engineers and other volunteers from Purdue, Indiana University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, high-technology businesses and marketing professionals. The team totals about 100 people.
"Purdue engineering alumni, faculty and students are working on this project," said E. Dan Hirleman, professor and William E. and Florence E. Perry Head of the Purdue School of Mechanical Engineering. Hirleman has volunteered on the project since its inception last year and helps lead a related student project as part of a Purdue class to design and develop a similar autonomous vehicle.
The Purdue class is a combination of senior design projects for students from mechanical, electrical and computer engineering. Some of the students are working directly on subsystems for the Indy Robotics Racing Team's vehicle, and other students are working on the student-designed Purdue version of an autonomous vehicle.
Purdue students from various engineering schools designed and built the first prototype, a dune buggy-type vehicle that operates with several computers that function eyes, hands and feet this year. The vehicle was unveiled last May at Purdue.
The Indy Robot Racing Team is led by team leaders Scott Jones and Doug Traster. Jones and Traster formed the Carmel-based IndyRobotics LLC, the parent company to the Indy Robot Racing Team, in 2004 to develop what could be the world's most advanced autonomous ground vehicle. The vehicle, known as Indianas Robotic Vehicle, is built on a 2004 Jeep Rubicon chassis and frame.
"Purdue University has always been on the cutting edge of technology, and its partnership in this project is evidence of the desire to further the advancement of technology and economic development in the state," said Jones. "Purdue's engineers have played a vital role in the development of what could be the next big thing in automobile technology."
In January, about 200 teams began preparations for the upcoming DARPA competition. By June, that number was narrowed to 40 teams that will participate in qualifications taking place now at the California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. At that event, the teams will be narrowed to 20 that will compete in the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge on Oct. 8.
The first DARPA challenge took place in March 2004, when 20 vehicles entered the race to manipulate a 150-mile course through the Mojave Desert. No team successfully completed the course.
A publication-quality photograph is available at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/uns/images/+2005/DARPA-autonomous.jpg
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