DARPA is funding a contest to create an unmanned robot for battlefield use. Presumably, the robots would be used for transportation and eventually unattended strikes against enemy targets. The prize for winning is $1,000,000(USD). To win the contest, a robot must to be able to travel from Los Angeles, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. This harsh climate, located just north of the Mojave Desert presents a very good test for the robots' durability and reliability. The route won't be limited to surfaced roads either. Un-surfaced roads and trails are included in the path. The organizers have also said there will probably be some man-made obstacles such as downed power-lines, open water, or barbed wire fences.
Any non-U.S. government person or entity was allowed to enroll in the contest. This isn't for the weak of heart. It's much more than the typical automated machine because it must navigate the 142 mile course without any human-guidance. If that's not enough, a time limit exists as a requirement to win. Developing a robot of this complexity will cost a lot of money, so only larger institutions or groups are able to gather the resources to complete the task.
The regulations for the robots are relatively relaxed to help creativity. All the computing equipment must be on the robot. There are no size, shape, or power requirements, only that it touches the ground via tires. The robots do need to adhere to safety standards for lasers, RF radiation, and acoustic levels.
The challenge took place on March 14, 2004. 15 teams competed against each other. At the end of the race, only two teams were able to go 7 miles: Red Team out of Carnegie Mellon University and SciAutonics II out of Thousand Oaks, California.
Because no team completed the course, the DARPA Grand Challenge will occur in 2005. The contest will be repeated annually until a team wins or the congressional money expires in 2007.