Failure and the DARPA Grand Challenge

My boss, Sebastian Thrun, somewhat famously won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. The car built by his Stanford team successfully traversed the 150-mile desert race course. That led to Sebastian’s role building the Google Self-Driving Car Project, and now the Udacity Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree Program.

Less well-known is the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, the year prior, in which no vehicle finished. In fact, no vehicle made it further than 7 miles. Most vehicles just died altogether.

Wired has a pretty neat oral history of the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge. It’s short and worth a quick read.

The most impressive aspect of the 2004 race, really, is that there even was a 2005 race. After watching every vehicle fail in 2004, DARPA threw down the gauntlet again in 2005, and the rest is history.

A reporter asked, “Well, what are you gonna do?” I said, “We’re gonna do it again, and this time it’s going to be a $2 million prize.” It was so successful and yet so not successful, I had to do it again.

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