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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: January 12th, 2011 09:49 AM CDT

December Industry News

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The "Team Gator Nation" vehicle, outfitted with SICK sensors, prior to the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge.
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SICK Sensors Guide 26 Teams Through Unmanned Vehicle Race

Laser Measurement Systems (LMS) sensors from SICK (Minneapolis, Minn.) were used by 26 of the 35 teams in this year's DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Challenge) race—the Urban Challenge—on Nov. 3 in Victorville, Calif. The sensors use laser radar technology to help the vehicle navigate the terrain and avoid obstacles, locating curbs and ditches, detecting people and other vehicles, and seeing elevation changes in the roadway.

The Urban Challenge is designed to test the speed and accuracy of unmanned vehicles in a simulated urban setting. Vehicles must avoid obstacles, merge into traffic, negotiate intersections, and other challenges in a mock traffic environment. The event requires vehicles to navigate a 60-mile urban course in less than six hours. The race is intended to further advance research and development of autonomous vehicles for use in future military operations.

Jerry Ma from Team Caltech says, "The SICK laser sensors cover a 25-meter radius around our vehicle. They are an integral part of our sensing system and allow our vehicle to detect obstacles and plan accordingly. Simply put, they are like the eyes of our vehicle. Without them, we'd more or less be driving blind."

Depending on how they are mounted, the LMS Sensors can scan a vertical or horizontal plane. With a 180-degree scanning range, the sensor collects 2D profiles that detect terrain and obstacles in front of unmanned vehicles. With time-of-flight technology used to profile target objects, LMS sensors have the ability to prevent collisions in moving traffic.

The $2 million winner was Tartan Racing, a collaborative effort by Carnegie Mellon University and General Motors Corp., with their vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe. The second-place finisher, earning a $1 million prize, was the Stanford Racing Team with their entry a 2006 Volkswagen Passat. Coming in third was team Victor Tango from Virginia Tech, winning the $500,000 prize with their 2005 Ford Escape hybrid. MIT placed 4th, with Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania also completing the course.

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