Every so often in the search for new industrial technology, something fun happens along that might provide some real, tangible benefits. One such incidence is this weekend’s robotic race through the desert, sponsored by DARPA.
Saturday’s (Oct. 8) Grand Challenge will award $2 million to a team that can pilot an unmanned vehicle through the California-Nevada desert. In the first race last year, no vehicle made it 10 miles. But this year, many teams think they can use GPS, radar and other technologies to avoid rocks, coyotes, potholes for more than 100 miles.
Major companies like Texas Instruments, National Instruments, SICK, Banner Engineering, Agilent and many others are supporting teams, many of them from leading colleges.
Calling these unmanned vehicles robots is a bit of a stretch for those who use robotic systems in an industrial environment. But these college and corporate teams are addressing some of the same tasks needed to create reliable industrial systems. DARPA teams must keep dust out of critical areas. They must figure out how to determine what’s being imaged by a camera even when dust and grime cloud the lens. They must make decisions in milliseconds, with a wrong decision ending in failure.
It’s not overly likely that many engineers will follow the race and have that Eureka moment that helps them solve a work problem. But there are so many measurement issues involved in building and operating these racers that it’s certainly an interesting work-related venture.
Not to mention that it will simply be fun to see if any team can drive through a desert course that would be tough for many inexperienced humans to navigate.