No Drivers, but a Lot of Drive

ON Nov. 3, when robot vehicles raced through Darpatown, a simulated suburbia created in an abandoned Air Force Base in Victorville, Calif., each machine appeared to show its own distinct personality.

Like human drivers, some machines were aggressive, some were cautious, some cleverly bent rules that normally apply to traffic, and some zigged and zagged their way through the course like New York taxi drivers.

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.

Here’s an excerpt I found especially cool:

“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.”

Source:  New York Times

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