Next Up: DARPA Grand Challenge for Real Energy
Stanford's win of the robotic vehicle competition starts the race for
autonomous ground vehicles ("auto"-mobiles). Paul Noel ponders
what such a competition would do if it featured clean energy technology
Pure Energy Systems News - Exclusive
Press Release, Oct. 10, 2005
Stanley, the Stanford Racing Team's entry in the DARPA Grand Challenge,
finished first, earning the team a $2 million prize. The Oct. 8
off-road race pitted 23 autonomous vehicles against each other on a
132-mile desert course that began and ended in Primm, Nevada.
PRIMM, NEVADA, USA -- The second annual (US DOD)
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge has finished
with several robotic vehicles completing the race. With several competing teams
finishing within a few minutes of each other, this race isn’t over even when
the prize is awarded.
DARPA undertook the Grand Challenge to accelerate and focus the development of
these self driving vehicles because of a priority set by Congress for the US
Defense Department to have 33% of its vehicles autonomous by 2015. Other DOD
organizations have spent billions on developments that are proceeding slowly.
DARPA has done its usual effort to stimulate rather than fund. This has worked
beyond any expectations.
The real race has begun to build working autonomous ground vehicles. It will be
a “Land Rush.” This is a really profound series of events.
In the field of energy this is probably the single most important development in
the past century. With nearly 40% of US energy consumption involved in the
transportation industry, this targets the biggest single industry where
improvements can be made. The impact of making motor vehicles into true “automobiles”
– a word that means “self-moving” – will be dramatically to improve the
fuel efficiency of the entire transportation network, while vastly reducing the
danger of a fuel supply crunch.
This event in the Mojave Desert of California promises fuel economy improvements
per mile driven that will more than triple national fuel economy. This will be
accomplished without improving engines or drive trains. Any improvement to the
working parts of the drive for a car will simply multiply the improvements
arising from the DARPA Grand Challenge.
This isn’t the first time DARPA has shaken the earth. DARPA started the
Internet by its communications research efforts. With its long history of
producing massive results with a few dollars, DARPA provides the model for how
the US Government should best handle early-stage research and development
The effect of this DARPA project will be stunning. Imagine a world in which, you
can get into your car, and it will drive you there. You can send the kids to
school, and pick them up, without having to go yourself. Grandma and Grandpa can
go to the doctor or the market when they are blind or too weak to drive. And “nervous
Nellies” can stop making long detours to avoid the more frightening traffic
Imagine being able to pick up your cell phone, even if you don’t own a car,
and have an AUTOmobile arrive in a few moments that will take you anywhere.
Imagine a world without the hospitals full of bodies ruined by accidents. Yes,
you could even “drive drunk” without causing risk to others, as there would
be no further need for laws against operating a vehicle while impaired.
One might also imagine the savings from not having to send out all those fire
trucks, police cars and ambulances to respond to collisions that theoretically
would not occur if all cars were equipped with avoidance systems. However, it is
safe to also assume that such systems would not always work perfectly. And when
people come to rely on universal technology, and it fails – as it would if
when the electrical grid goes down – there could be worse consequences due to
the lost skills of accident avoidance when operating on their own.
Also, civil libertarians are concerned with applying satellite or other blanket
guidance systems to transportation because it would inherently make possible
continuous surveillance of where everyone is going. While steering/tracking
technology would be useful for law enforcement, in the worst-case scenario it
could also be used illegitimately. If those in power know the travel plans and
progress of someone who is politically or financially inconvenient or adverse to
them, they could easily harass or even assassinate the undesirable target.
That aside, the advantages of automatic transport are numerous.
Roadways will be much more efficient with few if any of those “moving parking
lots” we now call rush hour. Roadway construction per car will diminish
dramatically. Being able to have the vehicles travel at more efficient speeds
will reduce fuel use. New cars will be able to have more efficient acceleration,
gearing and do so with smaller engines. This will reduce fuel consumption by
more than 3 to 1.
Add the on coming technologies of fuel reformer – fuel-cell hydrogen powered
cars and the numbers promise to reduce fuel consumption and its air pollution as
much as 9 to 1.
If DARPA would have the next “Grand Challenge” be in the area of energy
development technologies such as sonic
electronic generation and a myriad of other promising technologies, we might
well see as much freedom develop in the area of energy as we have seen in the
Internet and may soon see in transportation.
# # #
Page posed by Sterling
D. Allan Oct. 10, 2005
Last updated October 10, 2005