Tuesday, November 15, 2005

How the Computers Drove SUVs 132 Miles Across the Desert

We heard the news a month ago that computers with advanced artificial-intelligence software for the first time drove a motor vehicle that completed a DARPA-designed course over 132 miles of rough desert. It was a "look, Ma, no hands" moment, and a $2 million prize for the winner.

This article explains for the first time I've seen how the technology was put together. The first three finishers used identical boxes with six Intel Pentium M's packaged as blades in a rugged platform designed to be earthquake proof (no spinning hard disks and a spike-resistant power supply).

I'm thinking the ratio in late 2005 for off road racing is something like:
(6 x Pentium M) + (12 x Stanford engineering graduate-student programmers) = 1 Good Old Boy

You may laugh, but computers are catching up to the abilities of the human brain to assess and react to complex external conditions. And you can bet that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Agency) is glad to pay every penny of the $2 million prize, the implications for unmanned vehicles being obvious.

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