I’ve written about the value of prizes in science and technology before, generally to note that they can’t motivate mountains of activity, but can spark some already motivated parties to reach a little further. In other words, they’re good for a push, but not a shove.
The fine auto robotics researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have built on their successes in the DARPA Urban Challenge – where they won a contest of autonomous vehicles in an urban environment – and will roll out a new version of its driverless SUV by the end of the year. DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – has no plans for another Grand Challenge (Carnegie Mellon participated in all three), so there’s no prize money to be had. Even so, it appears that there’s enough support from sponsors (though the size of that GM logo may shrink) and gains to be made for it to be worthwhile for CMU to continue. The Tartan Racing website emphasizes the driver safety applications of their work, but it’s hard not to see some ground-based analogue to a UAV emerge from this kind of work.