Penn's Autonomous Car "Little Ben" Advances to the Finals of the DARPA Urban Challenge

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Media Contact:Jordan Reese | jreese@pobox.upenn.edu | 215-573-6604November 1, 2007

PHILADELPHIA - "Little Ben," the autonomous vehicle engineered by University of Pennsylvania and Lehigh University faculty and students to drive itself, has advanced to the finals of the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge.

The "souped-up" Toyota Prius will compete Nov. 3 in the finals at 11 a.m. EST in Victorville, Calif. The event is broadcast live at www.grandchallenge.org. Contestant vehicles must safely drive through a 60-mile urban course in less than six hours, obeying traffic laws while merging into moving traffic, negotiating intersections and avoiding obstacles-all without human intervention. The three fastest finishers will receive cash prizes of $2 million, $1 million and $500,000.

"Little Ben" is the product of the Ben Franklin Racing Team, a consortium led by Penn, with partners Lehigh and Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories.

"Little Ben" advanced to the finals after successful demonstrations in July and October 2007 in which the vehicle navigated a four-way intersection, followed basic navigation and traffic laws, avoided obstacles and reacted intelligently to events. The car also successfully interacted with other vehicles by passing at appropriate times and demonstrated an understanding of intersection precedence.

"Advancing to the finals of the DARPA Urban Challenge means a great deal to the students, faculty and engineers who have been working on this project for the last year," Dan Lee, team leader and associate professor in the Penn Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering, said. "We are now in the company of some of the best roboticists in the world, and that is a great testament to the dedication, quality, and passion of Penn and Lehigh students."

Penn participants hail from the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Lab, housed in Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science. The GRASP Lab is an inter-disciplinary research center with expertise drawn from the departments of Computer and Information Science, Electrical and Systems Engineering and Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics.

Videos of "Little Ben" are at www.benfranklinracingteam.org.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency holds the Urban Challenge to foster the development of autonomous robotic ground vehicle technology, a goal of the not-too-distant future backed by an act of Congress.

Additional information on Grand Challenge is available at www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge.

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