>Anthony Levandowski
>Ghostrider - Robotic Motorcycle Competing in the DARPA Grand Challenge
>The DARPA Grand Challenge is a competition aimed at generating technology
>to enable vehicles to drive autonomously between two locations along a
>specified route in a realistic unstructured environment at useful speed. The
>competition, put on by the Defense Advance Research Project Agency, carries
>a $2 million prize for the fastest vehicle to complete the 175 mile course in the
>Mojave Desert.
>Ghostrider is a robotic motorcycle competing in the DARPA Grand Challenge.  
>The motorcycle is a highly modified 90CC dirt bike equipped with stability,
>navigation and obstacle avoidance systems hosted on AMD Dual-core Opteron
>based computers.  Obstacle avoidance is entirely vision based with two
>different approaches: a) two black and white Cognex camera stereo vision,
>b) single color Cognex camera for road detection.
>Anthony Levandowski, the team leader of the Blue team entering Ghostrider
>in the DARPA Grand Challenge will give an overview of last year's race and
>explain how ghostrider functions.  The vehicle will be present and
>demonstrated if location and weather permit.

Levandowski began his talk by explaining that the DARPA Challenge course runs from somewhere near Los Angeles to somewhere near Las Vegas, over roads that are expected to be good enough to pass a two wheel drive pickup truck without difficulty. The actual course is only announced two hours before the starting time, so that competitors don't have a chance to program it into the hardware of their racers. All of the competing machines must simply use the list of GPS coordinates and sensor data to stay on the road for the duration.

Last year had been the first year for the DARPA Challenge. There had been 40 vehicles that qualified, and the best one had gotten about seven miles into the course before being disqualified. Levandowski showed us pictures of some of them. They ranged from a six wheeled vehicle that looked a lot like a small tank to a pickup truck without a driver. Many were completely designed from scratch just to run this course without a driver. The Blue Team was the only challenger to run a motorcycle last year, and expected to be the only one to run a two wheeled vehicle again this year.

Levandowski showed us digital movies of his motorcycle running through its paces. It is quite capable of going over bumps and staying on the road and following directions from one GPS position to another. He explained that the vision systems can detect obstacles fifty feet away, and send corrections to the steering at a 60 Hz rate.  There is also a guidance system that detects tipping and factors corrections for that into the steering,

This years competition will be on October 8th. Levandowski expects the field to be about 200 racers. He thinks there will be at least one finisher this year. If there isn't, DARPA will run the Challenge again next year and maybe the year after.

During Q&A the following came up:

The electronics are running on a PC motherboard with a LINUX OS. In the beginning they tried to use Windows but they had lots of problems getting it to run fast enough. They compile the system in house, so that it has only the modules they need.

DARPA is running the Challenge because they weren't able to get a weapons contractor to solve the problem of designing a robot supply vehicle for forward deployed Army units. They are hoping the $2 Million purse will be enough incentive to get somebody to come through with a solution they can build on.

The competition is called a challenge instead of a race because it is illegal to have races in the Mojave Desert.

Levandowski showed us his robot motorcycle. It's a normal kiddie size one with a roll bar cage around a couple of boxes of electronics and three motorcycle batteries to power them. Instead of handlebars, there is a large beer can sized electric motor with the shaft leading directly down towards the front wheel. It sits neatly in the bed of a pickup truck, with room to spare. There are lots of wear marks on the roll bars, so it has obviously endured a lot of testing.

Levandowski expects the Discovery Channel to run a program about the machine in a few weeks.

This is the first robot motorcycle that has ever been made, as far as Levandowski knows. That is one of the reasons he is so excited about the challenge.

After the race is over, Levandowski is hoping to sell the technology to people like consumer reports for use in crash testing motorcycles.

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Tian Harter