10-08-05 3:10pm PDT
Minutes after Stanley crossed the finish line, H1ghlander received a helicopter escort and huge fanfare of its own. H1ghlander appeared especially anxious to cross the finish line, speeding 20 feet past the checkered flag stop, prompting the grandstand announcer to plead "Please stop" over the PA system.
About 10 minutes after H1ghlander checked in at the finish line, a cloud of dust containing the 20-year-old Sandstorm approached. After crossing the finish line, Red Team Racing team members reattached Sandstorm's steering wheel and drove it to the champion's circle where it joined H1ghlander and Stanley, whose engines were still ticking away.
Although Stanley was the first entrant to cross the dusty finish line, it is not necessarily the winner of the $2 million. Race officials paused all three vehicles were multiple times during the race so they wouldn't bunch up too much during tricky spots. Pause time doesn't count against an entry's overall time, and officials are scrambling to figure out exactly how much time each bot took to traverse the course. According to the official Grand Challenge website, Sandstorm actually finished the race two minutes faster than Stanley, with H1ghlander taking third place three minutes later. These results, however, have not been modified to include the pause time, and it could take a few hours for officials to determine the real winner.
Still on the course are the Gray Team's Gray Bot (6'21", 67 miles), TerraMax (5'55", 47 miles), and Insight Racing's Desert Rat (5'43", 19 miles), although TerraMax and GrayBot were paused several times by race officials and these times do not reflect that.
TerraMax and GrayBot both refuse to give up, each vowing to run until they get stuck or until the sun goes down. In TerraMax's case, if the sun sets on their race day, they will come back tomorrow to finish. Even if it's mathematically impossible to win the $2 million, said a TerraMax official, they plan to keep the bot running to demonstrate its viability for military use.
10-08-05 02:33pm PDT
"I see a dust trail in the vicinity!" the grandstand announcer booms, as spectators leave their bleacher seats and cluster, three to four deep, at the fence near the finish line. "I have a visual on bot number 3. Ladies and gentlemen, here comes Stanley!"
About 500 feet from the finish line, Stanford Racing Team's Stanley halts in its tracks, and I'm preparing myself for a last-minute heartbreaker. It turns out, though, that Stanley's only been temporarily paused so the official Darpa lead truck, with director Anthony Tether on board, can cross the finish line first, symbolizing the victory of the Grand Challenge program.
Ceremonial necessities over with, it's time for the Stanford Racing Team to get to the real business at hand-celebrating being the first team in history to complete an entire Grand Challenge course, and contemplating the possibility of having their pictures taken tonight with an oversized check for $2 million. As Stanley revs up for the final push across the finish line, the crowd noise becomes deafening.
It's still conceivable another, later-starting team will finish the course in less time than Stanley has taken, but that's becoming less likely as the afternoon wears on and other bots slow and stop. "It hasn't been written yet," the announcer says as two Stanford student team members dump the contents of a trashcan-sized ice bucket on their leader, Sebastian Thrun, "but I think the check books out." Thrun piles into Stanley's front seat with his students for an impromptu, horn-honking victory lap.
It'll be a few more hours until the official winner of the race is determined, but, for the Stanford racing crew, what's just happened is enough. "Before, it was a question of if we would ever be able to create cars that drive themselves," says an exhilarated Thrun, his Blue Team T-shirt still dripping wet. "Now, it's a question of when."
Ed. note: Popular Science named Stanford Racing Team leader Sebastian
Thrun a Brilliant 10 award winner in October 2005. Read our profile of