Most Grand Challenge vehicles, which include modified Hummers and other high-endtrucks, are designed by researchers from universities and technology companies. Theycarry hundreds of thousands of dollars in lasers and radar systems donated by the likes of Intel, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and other sponsors.The White Cougar was purchased for $500 from a local salvage yard, which also donateda set of used tires. The vehicle's many computer controllers are run by two PCs built fromleftover parts and a 3-year-old laptop, which are held in place by seat belts on the truck'sback seat. A salvaged window motor and some heavy-duty fishing line pulls the throttle.The steering mechanism was stripped from a 1979 Ford Crown Victoria.Total investment: about $4,000.
We just used our heads and made this junk
fly with just junkyard parts,”
s car was originally going to be named Dark Horse.
“Our marketing people said that‟
s a really poo
r name because they said that‟
s the team
that probably won't win,”
he said.Instead, they settled on the mythical White Cougar because Fink said the name evokesstrength, speed and intelligence.Fink, who says his only professional robotics experience was designing a machine to testelectricity meters, says he was motivated to build an autonomous vehicle after a nephewwas struck and killed in 2001 by a truck with a distracted driver at the wheel.
“That accident wouldn‟
t have happened with a truly autonomou
he said.Fink believes that the Gra
nd Challenge will fulfill DARPA‟
s goal of encouragingintellectual and financial investment in an emerging field.
I have a vision for the future, and the vision is that autonomous vehicles will beubiquitous, and nonautonomous vehicles will be the exception to the rule within 30
years,” Fink says. “
We'll see the 40,000 highway death
s a year drop to a few hundred.”
One of Fink‟
s partners, former auto mechanic Randy Reiss, has similarly grand ideas.
b in your car and say „Take me to the office‟ and you‟
ll sit back and read the
paper and off you‟ll go,”
said Reiss, who did much of the mechanical work on White
re this whole project is going.”
Fink says that what White Cougar lacks in funds, it makes up for in ingenuity.Most navigation systems, Fink explains, compare digital images of approaching obstaclesframe by frame, adjusting the vehicle's speed and direction accordingly. Fink says hissoftware analyzes objects for position as well as their probability for motion.
When the vehicle tri
es to avoid an object, it doesn‟
t try to avoid it where it is now, ittries to avoid it where it thinks it will
be when the truck gets there,”