Alas, despite some early success, Alice failed to advance to this weekend's final round. Equipped with eight cameras, two radar devices and eight laser range finders that measure distance by emitting infrared pulses, Alice nonetheless had trouble stopping and going at intersections and merging into traffic to DARPA's satisfaction. In one instance, Alice stopped at an intersection, advanced when the road was clear of traffic, but slowed down again because she mistakenly perceived a concrete guardrail to be an obstacle. "We would stop and not go and get honked at," Murray says. Alice at times also failed to identify the line in the road signaling her to stop at intersections and either stopped too late or not at all. (Although that may be good enough to get her a gig as a taxi in New York City.)
Alice has since been shipped back to Pasadena so that Murray and his team can study her computer's data logs and better understand her behavior. The van contains about a dozen computers running the open-source Linux operating system and a number of open-source software applications designed to process information gathered by the cameras, radar and laser range finders. Students plan to continue using Alice to test their research into the development of autonomous vehicles.
"Driving is a great example of something that humans [can] do really well that requires the need to think about a number of problems simultaneously, like working the pedals, steering the wheel and watching the road, all while thinking about where you're going," Murray says. "The DARPA challenges have really pushed the state of the art in that area." DARPA wants artificial intelligence that can measure a situation and make wise decisions based on the information it collects. "Right now we have people doing that," he says, "because we don't know how to make machines do it."