Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Run, Robot, Run

Gary Carr is a mechanical engineer working for Ensco, a professional-services firm and government contractor headquartered in Falls Church, Va. But get him started on the subject of the robot he's building, and he sounds more like a beaming parent.

"It starts to go off and make decisions on its own," he explains. "Decisions sometimes you can't believe it made."

Carr leads Ensco's team which is competing in the second annual Grand Challenge, a robot derby taking place next October that is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The challenge in question is to build an unmanned vehicle capable of traveling on its own through 175 miles of desert terrain in less than ten hours. The team whose robot completes the mission the fastest takes home $2 million.

At last year's Grand Challenge, Ensco fielded "David," a modified all-terrain vehicle. Alas, it and the 12 other robots all crapped out within eight miles of the start. But the firm got plenty of mileage in publicity terms. On its Web site, Ensco, a relatively small outfit with $100 million in annual revenue, still proudly touts a 38-page booklet packed with media mentions from the 2004 event.

Full story at