An OSU-based team hopes to send a self-guiding driverless vehicle over a rugged desert course for the challenge–and a shot at $2 million.

NOTE: The Oregon WAVE team’s participation in the 2005 Grand Challenge ended at the semifinal level—an extraordinary accomplishment for a first-year competitor.

The Oregon WAVE team finished at the semifinal level
The Oregon WAVE team finished at the semifinal level

The challenge is immense.

Send a vehicle over a grueling 150-mile Southwest desert course without a driver or any human intervention, including remote control.

The reward is great.

The Department of Defense is offering $2 million to the team whose autonomous vehicle successfully completes the winding, obstruction-laden course the fastest within a 10-hour time period.

An OSU-based team of 30 engineering students, faculty members, and local engineers is among 40 semifinalists–and the only one from the Northwest–seeking the prize.

The impetus for entering the competition was the autonomous vehicle research of Belinda Batten, head of the OSU Department of Mechanical Engineering and faculty mentor for the team, as well as the interest of students and others.

“To be one of 40 finalists from an original field of 195 teams in our first year attempting this testifies to the creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance of the people involved,” Batten said. “It’s an incredible accomplishment.”

Matt MacClary, team member and engineering graduate student, agrees. “I knew this would be tough because many of the other teams have a lot more resources than ours, and many competed in the Grand Challenge race last year,” he said. “Our vehicle is one of the lightest and most fuel efficient in the running.”

While other teams put hundreds of thousands of dollars into their vehicles, the OSU-based team, called Oregon WAVE (Willamette Autonomous Vehicle Enterprise), spent about $5,000 to modify a mini-Baja car to reach the semifinals. The vehicle was donated by OSU’s 2003 Mini-Baja race team.

The next step in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) test is head-to-head competition September 27 to October 5 in Fontana, California. The top 20 teams will advance to the national finals.

And if the OSU-based team should win the $2 million?

“I would anticipate it would be used to fund research in autonomous vehicles,” Batten said, “not simply ground vehicles, but there is a fair amount of work on campus that relates to autonomous underwater vehicles and autonomous air vehicles.”

Oregon WAVE team website

Belinda Batten website

College of Engineering site

DARPA Grand Challenge website

Corvallis Gazette-Times story on OSU team

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