UBC Reports | Vol.
50 | No. 11 |
Dec. 2, 2004
UBC Team to Compete in U.S. Defense Department Robotic Challenge
By Michelle Cook
UBC’s Centre for Environmental Research in Minerals,
Metals and Materials (CERM3) will participate in a U.S. Defense
Department competition designed to accelerate research and
development in autonomous ground vehicle technology to help
save lives on the battlefield.
The DARPA Grand Challenge 2005 will take place in the Mojave
Desert on October 8, 2005. The Defence Advanced Research Projects
Agency (DARPA) is offering a $2 million prize to the vehicle
that completes the course in the fastest time within a 10-hour
Called Team Thunderbird, the UBC group is expected to be
the only Canadian competitor in next year’s challenge.
The team expects to have its robot, an SUV covered in maple
leaves, ready for hardware testing by mid-December, with a
fully autonomous system in place by mid-February.
“Someday soon, robotics technology will allow us to
accomplish tasks that today place humans at risk,” says
team leader Andrew Lyon. “Whether the application is
military or civilian such as mining, forestry, search and
rescue, or fire-fighting, robotics can help prevent human
injury or death. Team Thunderbird is excited to be able to
put together a Canadian team that can contribute to this effort
and develop the technical innovations that will help us win
The UBC team is comprised of students and professors from
the Faculty of Applied Science with a multidisciplinary set
of skills in mechanical, electrical, computing, engineering
physics, materials science, and mining engineering technologies.
Several students from the Sauder School of Business have also
volunteered their time to help run the financing end of the
initiative. The team has already attracted some sponsorship
but, in order to fully develop the vehicle, it needs to raise
an additional $300,000.
Mining engineering professor John Meech says the team’s
base in the Mining Engineering department gives it an edge.
Robots are already being used successfully in several underground
and open-pit mines to load, haul, and dump ore. If the race
were run at night, Meech says, Team Thunderbird would have
an advantage given its knowledge of robotic operations conducted
in the dark.
DARPA’s mission is to pursue R&D technology in
areas where the payoff is very high and where success can
provide dramatic advances in both civilian and military capabilities.
The agency’s DARPANet computer network in the 1970s
was the forerunner to the Internet.
The 2005 event will be the second DARPA Grand Challenge.
In March 2004, 15 robotic vehicles attempted to navigate a
challenging 142-mile route along desert tracks between Barstow,
California and Las Vegas, Nevada. The farthest distance any
team got on the course was 11.3 kilometres.