See Inside January 2006

Innovations from a Robot Rally

This year's Grand Challenge competition spurred advances in laser sensing, computer vision and autonomous navigation-not to mention a thrilling race for the $2-million prize

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The most valuable and complex component in a modern vehicle typically is also the most unreliable part of the system. Driving accidents usually have both a human cause and a human victim. To certain engineers--especially those who build robots--that is a problem with an obvious solution: replace the easily distracted, readily fatigued driver with an ever attentive, never tiring machine.

The U.S. military, which has been losing soldiers to roadside bombs in Iraq for several years, is particularly keen on this idea. But by 2002 more than a decade of military-funded research on autonomous ground vehicles had produced only a few slow and clumsy prototypes.

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