No, it’s not the Terminator, nor Christine, the evil, haunted car conceived by Stephen King, but the “Boss,” a Chevrolet Tahoe modified by Carnegie Mellon University, in collaboration with General Motors, comes close. It’s the winner of the third DARPA Challenge, a Pentagon-sponsored contest that pitted 11 different driverless vehicles against one another on a 60-mile course through California.
On display at this year’s Consumer Electronic Show, in Las Vegas, the Boss claimed a $2 million purse posted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the same folks who originally conceived what we now know as the Internet. (And, no, we’re not going to fall back on some bad Al Gore joke.) The agency’s goal is to develop fully autonomous military vehicles, the need for which has become increasingly obvious during the bloody war in Iraq, where opposition forces have heavily focused on attacking American soldiers while driving through hostile territory.
Unlike some of the Pentagon’s pilotless drones, such as the Predator, which are actually operated by remote control, the vehicles participating in the DARPA Challenge must be fully autonomous. In the words of the contest rules, that means, “maneuvering in a mock city environment, executing simulated military supply missions while merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections and avoiding obstacles.”
Not all the entrants pulled it off. Entries from MIT and Cornell University collided, early on, though both managed to finish, but of the 11 entrants, only six managed to make it to the finish line, including Carnegie Mellon’s Boss. By the way, the robot Tahoe gets its name from the legendary Charles “Boss” Kettering, the long-time head of research and engineering at General Motors, best known as the inventor of the electric starter. Considering today’s cars typically feature thousands of dollars in electronics – everything from engine controllers to onboard navigation – CES is the logical place to show off a car like Boss.