Reality bytes

Today the teams gathered for closing ceremonies at California Speedway in Fontana/Ontario, site of the qualification events for the DARPA Challenge robotic vehicles race. The Indy Robot Racing team was in good spirits, having accepted its fate of not earning a spot in the finals this Saturday in the Mojave Desert. Team founder Scott Jones indicated that “everything (bad) that happened to our vehicle was within our power to prevent” – an honorable philosophy given the fact that external forces did in fact play a part in the team’s misfortune.

Nonetheless, Jones and other team leaders deemed the experience a success, vowing to come back again better and stronger. If no team wins this year’s finals event, the DARPA prize will be doubled to $4 million, and will be held in the spring of 2007. In the meantime, Jones is moving forward with plans to commercialize the technologies developed for the autonomous vehicle dubbed IRV – Indy Robot Vehicle.

As for our coverage, we will remain in California with the team and attend the championship event. Observers are skeptical that any of the 20 qualifying teams can complete the 175-mile desert terrain course in the required ten hours or less. Jones intends to closely observe the finals competition, and most certainly will gain new insights in the development of autonomous vehicle technology.

“Indiana will be at the forefront of re-inventing the automobile industry because of our work with the IRV and its related technologies. We are well positioned to influence the direction of robotic vehicles as a means of public transportation,” says Jones.

Predicted uses for such vehicles include municipal snow removal, agriculture, hazardous waste handing and movement, and medical applications. Jones has formed an LLC to take to market the proprietary technologies developed by the IRV team. And while the team was in the DARPA Challenge to win, its primary goal was to advance these IRV technologies.

Jones is already strategizing how to move forward, including the distinct possibility that Indiana will host one or more similar robotic vehicle events in the near future. And, Jones has made clear the important role that was played by Indiana University in this effort. He is enthusiastic about working with the IU School of Informatics and other IU schools and programs to reach his goals. You can be sure that IU – one of the nation’s outstanding research institutions – is ready for the challenge.

[photo courtesy: Steven Wallace/Indiana University]


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