Autonomous Desert-Crossing Robotic Car

Starting in 2003, I worked with the Palos Verdes Road Warriors to compete in the DARPA Grand Challenge. The challenge was to build an autonomous off-road robot that would race across the desert from Barstow, California to Prim, Nevada. Starting with an Acura MDX, we equipped the vehicle shifter, steering column, accelerator, and brakes with EMC mobility controls. This actuator suite controls the throttle cord, uses a lever to push the brake pedal, and has a servo connected to the steering column. In addition, the controls can actuate the transmission. We interfaced the EMC controller with a computer using a D/A converter.

(Above) The driver's seat has access to the EMC controls. This is where the shifter would normally be. The yellow handle under the steering wheel is the steering column actuator unlock, which allows a human to drive the car.

(Above) The roof of the robot. The light bar is for safety, as is the siren speaker in the back right. The black antenna is for the e-stop system that DARPA requires all vehicles have installed.

Safety equipment controllers and in the bottom right one of the two CCD cameras used for stereovision.

Two servers take in all the sensor data, process it, and make decisions based on laboriously-tuned algorithms to control the vehicle.

We used a SICK laser sensor which scans a 180 degree plane for obstacle avoidance.

Vehicle cockpit.

In our first year in the race, we placed in the top 17 teams in the nation, making it to the final race. Unfortunately, we had mechanical steering problems during the race which incapacitated the vehicle. Since I left for MIT mid-season of the second year, I was not able to work with the team all the way through on the second-year.