The DARPA Grand Challenge—a raucous race for robotic, driverless vehicles sponsored by the Pentagon, which awards a $2 million purse to the winning team. Armed with artificial intelligence, laser-guided vision, GPS navigation, and 3-D mapping systems, the contenders are some of the world’s most advanced robots. Yet even their formidable technology and mechanical prowess may not be enough to overcome the grueling 130-mile course through Nevada’s desert terrain. From concept to construction to the final competition, “The Great Robot Race” delivers the absorbing inside story of clever engineers and their unyielding drive to create a champion, capturing the only aerial footage that exists of the Grand Challenge.
It would seem that the essentials to road racing are clear—a fast car and talented driver, right? Wrong. The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) turns this assumption on its head with its Grand Challenge, a contest solely for autonomous vehicles that go relatively slowly. Following its success with unmanned aircraft, DARPA is pushing for the same on-ground advantage to keep soldiers out of harm’s way. Private Jessica Lynch’s ambush in Iraq might well have been avoided if the U.S. Army could have had a robotic supply truck to carry out missions in dangerous zones.