Cartoon icon Speed Racer had the Mach 5. Carnegie Mellon University's Tartan Racing team has "Boss," a self-navigating robotic vehicle that doesn't require a human driver to maneuver traffic circles and obstacles.
Last weekend, Boss beat all 11 of its competitors in a Pentagon-sponsored race in Victorville, Calif., and took home the $2 million first prize. The military is interested in the outcome of these annual races because it wants to sponsor the development of autonomous robotic vehicles for battlefield application.
The robot vehicles that ate Boss' dust included second-place Stanford University and third-place Virginia Tech. MIT, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania also were humbled.
Tartan Racing team leader William "Red" Whittaker, a Carnegie Mellon robotics professor, knew all along that Boss had the right stuff to win. The ingenuity of Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science and the College of Engineering were on display and scientists from General Motors, Caterpillar and Continental AG lent a hand.
Still, for all of its cutting-edge intelligence, there's no word on whether Boss is up to the ultimate challenge: the parkway at rush hour.