Apple powers self-drive car

Apple technology drives a new fully-autonomous vehicle developed for a major U.S. competition.

Team Banzai is one of just 40 teams (selected from 118 entrants) from around North America to have made it through to the semi-finals of the 2005 DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Grand Challenge.

DARPA is the central research and development organization for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

Tiger is the tank

The team has developed it’s Tiger-powered customized Touareg car (dubbed “Dora”) using Mac OS X technologies for the entire development and race management for the attempt.

Power Mac G5’s running OS X inside the car control electronic pistons and belts to control the steering wheel, brake and gas pedals, and gear shifter.

In order to navigate to a destination, Dora follows a series of GPS waypoints, while an array of sensors — radar, video cameras, sonars and lasers — check terrain and assess likely obstacles.

The 40 semi-finalists had to prove their self-controlled vehicles could navigate themselves through a narrow 200-meter course that included turns and randomly-place obstacles.

150-mile road-test Oct. 8

The vehicles will compete against each other in the National Qualification Event (NQE) at the California Speedway in Fontana, Sept. 27 to Oct. 5, 2005. Just 20 of the 40 teams will get to compete for US$2 million in the Grand Challenge event on Oct. 8, 2005.

The whole project is a field test of robotic ground vehicles. The Grand Challenge event itself will see the vehicles travel 150-miles across “rugged desert roads using only on-board sensors and navigation equipment to find and follow the route and avoid obstacles”, DARPA said.

DARPA director Dr. Anthony Tether said: “The high quality of vehicle performance that we witnessed during the site visits is truly impressive. We are thrilled with the sheer excitement about developing autonomous ground vehicles that the Grand Challenge has sparked among people”.

Apple boffins take next step

There’s a clear Apple connection to this attempt: Team Banzai is led by Dr. John Choi, founder of the Banzai Research Institute. At one time in his career, Dr. Choi was a software designer at NeXT and Apple.

Also on the team is Dr. Bing Chen, who is currently a senior consulting engineer at Apple, also a former NeXT developer. Next on the team is Kenny Leung, also a former campus consultant for NeXT and software engineer at Apple.

There’s telecoms experience on the team, too — Mario Diez — Diez is currently a senior engineer at Ericsson Wireless Systems.

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