Mar 11, 2004

A New Race Of Robots Has Seagate "Driving" Behind The Wheel

SCOTTS VALLEY, Calif. - Hurtling across a rutted, punishing landscape, dodging boulders, the imposing vehicle hits a rise and catches air. Hits the ground ready to swerve and avoids a sand pit. Sliding a little sideways, it quickly adjusts before the next obstacle comes into view. It's proven itself through rain and heavy mud, and the hefty, free-spirited vehicle called "Sandstorm" could drive through one of those too - and there's not a human in sight, not on board, not even holding a remote control.

Early on March 13, 2004, near Barstow, California, some of the most sophisticated autonomous land vehicles ever assembled will embark on a race across the Mojave Desert in the DARPA Grand Challenge. They have 10 hours to cover 210 miles of desert terrain and overcome the many barriers this rugged landscape presents. There will be no drivers, no mechanics, no human navigators. The only communication will be the starting gun. The winning team will receive a prize of $1 million. This is the first race of its kind, and Seagate is playing a major role with the odds-on favorite Red Team, led by Carnegie Mellon University, and its robotic vehicle, Sandstorm. The car prevailed in Tuesday's qualifying round, driving impeccably. In today's second qualifier at 10:30 am, the team will try to earn the coveted pole position.

How does Sandstorm find its way without the help of a human pilot? Its onboard Seagate hard drives tell it where to go. All the map and landscape information normally in a human driver's brain is kept instead in Seagate Momentus notebook hard drives, the toughest in the industry. The route data is continually accessed and compared to real-time data from stereo video cameras, scanning radar, scanning laser ranging sensors and Global Positioning System receivers, using Sandstorm's Intel processors, so Sandstorm will brake, turn or step on the gas at just the right moment.

"Sandstorm has to be fast, and must quickly analyze terrain so that it knows whether to drive over a bush or around a boulder," said Red Team leader Dr. William "Red" Whittaker, the Fredkin Research Professor of Robotics at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "So we have to give it access to the best map data possible. The Seagate hard drives have to be tough enough to survive the pounding terrain and also keep seeking, reading and supplying new map information for the robot to process. We've spent thousands of hours with topographical maps and satellite and aerial imagery of the Mojave Desert, developing a digital map that will be loaded onto Sandstorm's onboard Seagate hard drives for the race."

"The most critical pieces to Sandstorm's abilities are the onboard hard drives, with plenty of I/O power and robustness advances, the Intel processors, the navigating global positioning system and the mapping software," said Whittaker. "Seagate is in the hard drive business, but Sandstorm is just into hard driving. Seagate made sure these hard drives were ready for whatever the road brings, building in the greatest ruggedness in the industry, and advising our engineers on how to mount the drives in better, more robust ways."

Two families of Seagate hard drives are critical to Sandstorm's success. High-speed Seagate Barracuda hard drives have been used to help map various potential race routes. Those maps will be used to calculate the optimal route on race day. After thousands of hours spent gathering finely detailed topological map data, assembling maps, models and aerial imagery of the area, an enormous geographic database several terabytes in size is now ready on the Seagate Barracuda hard drives. The final route instructions will be transmitted to the Seagate Momentus hard drives on the robot just before the race. Seagate Momentus hard drives are in the "visual cortex" of the vehicle itself to support real-time synthesis of map data and real-time sensor data.

The Red Team, including leader Whittaker, many Carnegie Mellon University students and former students, and Seagate director of research Kevin Gomez, have been planning for rugged race conditions; they've been warned to expect narrow passages, tight turns, tricky sand and plenty of obstacles. During the race, Sandstorm can't receive instructions from any outside source. According to the rules, even if a vehicle runs out of gas, it can only be serviced by another autonomous vehicle.

The Grand Challenge was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to leverage American ingenuity to accelerate the development of autonomous vehicle technologies. DARPA invited 25 teams to its qualification, inspection and demonstration event at the California Motor Speedway in Fontana that concludes today. Some of America's most prominent technology companies join Seagate in its sponsorship of the Carnegie Mellon Red Team, including Boeing, Intel, SAIC, Alcoa, BFGoodrich, Caterpillar, Earthlink, Trimble, Google, and others.

For more information on the benefits of developing autonomous vehicles, please visit the Red Team's web site at:

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