The DARPA Urban Challenge flew under the radar, but apparently the results are in:
Carnegie Mellon's Tartan Racing Team scored the first place prize of $2 million. Stanford University's Stanford Racing team came in second for $1 million, and Virginia Tech's Victor Tango team won the third place prize of $500,000. ...
Tether said Tartan's vehicle averaged about 14 miles per hour throughout the course, which covered about 55 miles. Stanford averaged about 13 miles per hour, and Virginia Tech averaged a bit less than that. In response to a question from the press, Tether said that MIT came in fourth place.
Tether couldn't have been more pleased with the race, calling it a "fantastic accomplishment," and saying that the technology for robotic vehicles was now just about ready for other companies and organizations to pick up the work in honing it further. "DARPA is an interesting organization," he said. "We really never finish anything. All we really do is show that it can be done. We take the technical excuse off the table, to the point where other people can no longer say 'Hey this is a very interesting idea, but you know that you can't do it.' I think that we're close to that point, that it's time for this technology to [be furthered] by somebody else."
DARPA is a great organization, unique in the world, and an enormous spur to innovation. Congrats to CMU! Wikipedia has some more details about the race:
The third competition of the DARPA Grand Challenge, known as the "Urban Challenge", took place on November 3, 2007 at the site of the now-closed George Air Force Base (currently used as Southern California Logistics Airport), in Victorville, California (Google map). ...
The course involved a 96 km (60-mile) urban area course, to be completed in less than 6 hours. Rules included obeying all traffic regulations while negotiating with other traffic and obstacles and merging into traffic. While the 2004 and 2005 events were more physically challenging for the vehicles, the robots operated in isolation and did not encounter other vehicles on the course. The Urban Challenge required designers to build vehicles able to obey all traffic laws while they detect and avoid other robots on the course. This is a particular challenge for vehicle software, as vehicles must make "intelligent" decisions in real time based on the actions of other vehicles. Other than previous autonomous vehicle efforts that focused on structured situations such as highway driving with little interaction between the vehicles, this competition operated in a more cluttered urban environment and required the cars to perform sophisticated interactions with each other, such as maintaining precedence at a 4-way stop intersection.
I've spent way too much time at George Air Force Base, and it presents some interesting terrain, but I'd call it more suburban than urban. In any event, I bet this technology will lead to cars that drive themselves with minimal human guidance long before we have practical flying cars.