DARPA Urban Challenge: NC State/Insight Racing Lotus

Posted by Humphrey Cheung

While many of the Urban Challenge teams are using big SUVs, the team from NC State and Insight Racing are using a very low-to-the-ground Lotus Elise.  Bristling with lasers, cameras and of course a very good engine, the team hopes the car can speed itself to victory.

Victorville (CA) – While many of the Urban Challenge teams are using big SUVs, the team from NC State and Insight Racing are using a very low-to-the-ground Lotus Elise.  Bristling with lasers, cameras and of course a very good engine, the team hopes the car can speed itself to victory.

Darpa Urban Challenge - Insight Racing's Lotus Elise ...

Grayson Randall, a full-time IBM employee and team leader, told us that the diminutive size of the Lotus makes it hard to see for many of the other vehicles.  “Their sensors are usually mounted on the bumper of an SUV which makes using a Lotus somewhat of a risk,” said Randall.  But he assured us that the car is quite agile and can turn out of the way of any vehicle.   At the Urban Challenge cars not only have to dodge stationary obstacles, but also have to avoid moving cars and even other competitors.  Randall also said the car can accelerate to 30 MPH “very quickly” and has been tested at up to 50 MPH.

Of course you need to dissipate all the heat coming from all the electronics crammed into the car and the team has installed two evaporative coolers into the cabin and the trunk.  Randall said cooling was one of the biggest challenges the team faced in developing the vehicle.

Obstacle avoidance is done with eight SICK laser units, five in the front and three on the back.  Guidance is provided with two differential GPS units on the roof along with a Northrop Grumman inertial navigation unit, just in case the car goes into a tunnel and loses GPS signal.

Nine Mac Minis running Linux crunch through all the data and compute a route solution.  Randall said the entire code base is less than 10,000 lines.  “I’m very surprised at how compact everything is, but it has to be at 40 miles-per-hour,” said Randall.