2 PM: “Ladies and gentlemen,” the race caller intones, “Junior, the first bot to see the finishing checkered flag!” With spectators standing on the bleachers, hanging over the chainlink fence, and screaming their lungs out, Junior, the Stanford Racing Team’s VW Passat, crosses the finish line. After finishing its long, hard slog, the car sits still and silent in the middle of the track for a minute, as if nonplussed by its feat. A moment later, Carnegie Mellon’s Boss bot zips past the finishing flag, followed closely by Virginia Tech’s Odin. The three other bots on the course are still chugging away.
Two years ago, when Stanford’s Stanley bot was first to enter the finishers’ circle, Stanford team members instantly erupted with joy and emotion, jumping into the car for a honk-filled victory lap and dumping Gatorade over the head of their fearless leader, Sebastian Thrun. There’s no such revelry this time around, possibly because the results aren’t so self-evident. All three teams know that final score calculations still have to be made and that the close finish means any of them could take the top prize.
Though the anti-climactic finish Whitaker predicted has come to pass, members of the finishing teams are still basking in the afterglow. “This is an unbelievable day,” says Thrun. “The fact that three vehicles came back already shows that we’ve made tremendous progress.” OK, so it’s not “We have a winner,” but it’s something. Check back tomorrow for the race’s final results.—Elizabeth Svoboda