Red Team wins and loses

Sandstorm, the heavily-modified Humvee designed and run by Carnegie Mellon's Red Team, failed to complete the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency Grand Challenge's 142-mile course between Barstow, Calif., and Las Vegas. Sandstorm, which won pole position in the qualifying rounds of the million-dollar competition, reached the 7.4-mile mark before getting stuck, progressing much farther than any other team participating in the race.

"[The race] was pretty exciting, competitive but friendly," said Sam Harbaugh, a Carnegie Mellon software engineering distance instructor and Red Team's system engineering leader. "There was lots of controlled excitement. There was no panicking, no one broke down — it was very professionally done."

Originally, 25 teams were set to enter the race, but only 19 passed the Quality Inspection and Demonstration, or QID, and only 13 vehicles were present for the race itself on March 13. Several of the vehicles crashed within yards of the starting line, and eight of the vehicles failed or were disabled before reaching their first mile.

"The routing team did a perfect job, and the robot did a perfect job in QID and for the first seven miles. Then, for some reason, Sandstorm went off along a side road," said Harbaugh. Sandstorm got stuck on the edge of a cliff, with the left end of the car dangling over the edge. Unable to move, the vehicle's front wheels spun until the rubber tires caught fire and burnt off, but by then Sandstorm was out of the race ... like a turtle on a fence post," Harbaugh said.

Seven days before the race, Sandstorm rolled over during testing and damaged several essential components necessary for navigating and sensing during testing in Nevada. Replacement equipment was rushed in, but Sandstorm still had not fully recovered from the rollover by the time of the race.

"The field team in Nevada, and the routing team here, both made a momentous effort to get replacement parts," said Harbaugh. "Everything came together at the last minute."

Michael Clark, a software engineering graduate student and senior member of the Red Team's routing team, added, "I think it was by design to keep the two teams separated until the end, when it all came together on a highway in California."

The Red Team is planning on entering the next DARPA Grand Challenge, scheduled for 2006. The team hopes to reuse Sandstorm for the 2006 Challenge.