DARPA Urban Challenge: Three Vehicles Out

By 9:45 AM, it's official—the field of eleven teams has already dwindled to eight. Oshkosh, AnnieWay, and Intelligent Vehicle Systems' entrants have ground to a halt, forcing them to drop out of the race. Oshkosh's demise was the most dramatic: It slammed into the side of one of the stage-set buildings in the mock urban environment. DARPA officials have declared an "All Pause," ordering the still-viable vehicles to stay put while organizers figure out how best to continue with the competition.

It's been interesting to observe some of the subtle ways the autonomous-vehicle community has changed in the two years since the last Grand Challenge was held. At 2005's event, the vast majority of the participants came from universities, but this year, most teams are built on collaborations between academia and industry—many of the vehicles are plastered with enough business logos to put NASCAR teams to shame (Google and VW are among the notable headliners). This shift seems like a sign that major corporate players are beginning to take notice of the vast profit-generating potential of this kind of technology. Today Victorville, tomorrow the world!—Elizabeth Svoboda