December 4 2007: 12:31 PM EST
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High stakes robot-racing

Thrills and spills mark the Department of Defense's first suburban robot race.

By Philip Elmer-DeWitt, senior editor

CMU's driverless Chevy Tahoe took first place.

(Fortune Magazine) -- Hard core robot experts tend to turn up their noses at remote-control bots like Robotex's - even if they're fully armed.

Their idea of real robots is more like the camera-studded vehicles that raced in November's so-called DARPA Grand Challenge, a kind of Indy 500 for driverless cars. This is heavy-duty research sponsored by the Pentagon, which wants a fleet of autonomous battlefield vehicles by 2015.

The first two Grand Challenges took place in the Mojave desert, where nobody could get hurt. This one was set in an abandoned Air Force base to simulate suburban driving conditions - complete with parking hazards and traffic jams.

The winner of the $2 million first prize, having successfully navigated the 60-mile course - including left turns across traffic - was a souped-up Chevy Tahoe out of Carnegie Mellon University.

Other entries were not so lucky. One triggered a fender-bender. Another nearly collided with a pillar. A third ran into a house. Fortunately, none of them was carrying a gun.

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