The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is part of the US Defense Department, and it provides funding to all kinds of researchers for projects that might at some point have a useful military application. Over the last several decades they have funded many projects, some of which have made it into the civilian mainstream, like a little network you might have heard of called the internet (which was originally born as ArpaNet). One of the better known recent projects, is the DARPA Grand Challenge, the first running of which in 2004 turned into a complete fiasco. The $1 million prize for the first running went unclaimed, because none of the vehicles completed the 142 mile course through the California desert. In fact, the farthest anyone got was seven miles, with most of the teams not even getting off the starting line.
Eighteen months later, with the prize money doubled, they tried again, and this time a team from Stanford University finally succeeded (along with three other teams), and completed a 132-mile course from Barstow, California to Primm, Nevada. The Stanford team equipped a Red-Bull sponsored Volkswagen Touareg, nick-named Stanley, with more computer power than the Apollo moon missions, and the SUV ran the distance in a little over 7 seven hours with no human intervention once the race began. In November, DARPA will try again, this time with an Urban Challenge. Instead of a desert course, the teams will traverse a sixty-mile mock urban environment. For this year's event, Stanford has created Junior, a VW Passat wagon packed with laser rangefinders, radar, GPS, and enough Intel Core 2 Duo processors to power a small data center. The car is not allowed to crash and must obey all California traffic laws while it's running, which would likely make it the only vehicle on the road to do so. You can find out more about Junior at the Stanford Racing Team web-site, and learn about the event at the DARPA Urban Challenge site.
[Source: Stanford Racing Team via Engadget]