Across the US, teams of boffins are working feverishly in preparation for this year’s Darpa Grand Challenge. As many readers will recall, this is an off-road driving competition run by the US defence agency, this year offering a $2m prize to any team that can build a self-guided robot vehicle capable of negotiating a tough, 150-mile course.
In 2004 the hot favourite was a modified military Humvee called Sandstorm, built by Red Team Racing. This seven-feet-wide, two-tonne behemoth was sponsored by Intel among others and boasted four Itanium and eight Xeon processors. It got the furthest of all the entrants last year, covering a somewhat embarrassing 7.4 miles before getting itself wedged.
With lessons learned, this year promises a better race - to be held on 8 October 2005. Red Team has got two entries past the scrutineers: an updated Sandstorm, plus a modified civilian-spec Hummer H1 called H1ghlander, which boasts seven Pentium-M processors and an Itanium 2.
However, Sneak is backing neither of these two lumbering heavyweights. Sneak would dearly like to see the more nimble, AMD-backed Ghostrider from the rival Blue Team race off with the prize. Not only does it make do with a lot less processing horsepower - one AMD Geode NX1500 embedded chip - it also has a lot less actual horsepower, being powered by a 125cc engine as opposed to Red Team’s 6.5 litre turbodiesels. It also makes do with fewer wheels: as the name suggests, Ghostrider is a motorcycle - meaning its hardworking Geode not only has to work out where to go and how to get there, but how to stay upright as well.
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