Pitching, Rolling, and Yawing over the Desert Sands

Last year, DARPA announced another Grand Challenge: Design an autonomous vehicle and send it 142 miles over the Mojave Desert in 10 hr. or less. Despite the $2 million prize, none of the initial 118 vehicles in the competition made it to the finish line. So the challenge stands, and the next race will take place on October 8, 2005, over a 175 mile course.

Red Team and Red Team Too from Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute are betting on a couple of modified Hummers, the Sandstorm (photo) and the HIghlander to bring back the purse. To improve their odds, the teams' engineers mounted KVH's DSP-3000 fiber-optic gyros on a stabilized sensor platform to detect pitch, roll, and yaw relative to the vehicle's position. The data will be used to stabilize the vehicles' navigation and guidance systems regardless of uneven terrain and vehicular motion.

Sandstorm, the returning Grand Challenge record-holder, is a 1986 Humvee whose sensors include lasers, radar, and single-camera road following. It traveled 7.4 miles in the first race before getting stuck in the sand. This year it will have a fresh engine, new drive-by-wire, fast computing, and a million lines of solid software. HIghlander, a 1999 Hummer, is a rookie contender that views terrain with seven laser scanners, three cameras, and two radar sensors, several of which are pointed and stabilized by a 3-axis gimbal using the KVH gyro.

Contact Chris Watson , KVH Industries, Inc., Middletown, RI; 401-847-3327, [email protected], www.kvh.com.