Virginia Tech, TORC Technologies Place Third in DARPA Urban Challenge

Virginia Tech, along with TORC Technologies, won the $500,000 third place prize last weekend at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Urban Challenge. In a close race with teams from Carnegie Mellon and Stanford universities, the Virginia Tech team used National Instruments (Nasdaq:NATI) LabVIEW software and CompactRIO hardware in its vehicle. Virginia Tech’s team, Victor Tango, was one of only six robotic teams to finish the 55-mile DARPA Urban Challenge course.

Team Victor Tango collaborated with TORC Technologies to design and create its vehicle intelligence using LabVIEW and the LabVIEW FPGA, LabVIEW Real-Time, LabVIEW Control Design and Simulation, and NI Vision Development modules. The team used CompactRIO to perform throttle, brake and steering control while monitoring control area network (CAN) bus signals for vehicle status.

“National Instruments congratulates team Victor Tango on its remarkable achievement,” said Ray Almgren, NI vice president of academic relations. “Team Victor Tango is a great example of how domain experts, rather than computer scientists, use NI LabVIEW graphical system design to quickly design, prototype and deploy sophisticated robotic designs. NI is proud to offer technologies for applications in this exciting and growing field of mobile robotics.”

As part of the competition, TORC Technologies created a set of LabVIEW tools for Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems (JAUS), an autonomous ground vehicle standard for passing messages and status information between various vehicle subsystems. LabVIEW running on a separate Microsoft Windows Server performed image processing and path planning. The team integrated an NI touch panel with the vehicle dashboard to select appropriate modes of operation.

“This exceptional team of Virginia Tech graduate and undergraduate students has been a true joy to work with, as they share the same passion for robotics as TORC,” said Michael Fleming, president of TORC Technologies. “With LabVIEW, the team implemented parallel processing of high-end vision algorithms running on two quad-core servers that perform the primary perception in our vehicle. The ability of LabVIEW to automatically multithread our application, in addition to the optimizations we performed in the language itself, drastically reduced our development time.”

The DARPA Urban Challenge is an autonomous vehicle research and development program with the goal of developing technology that keeps soldiers off the battlefield and out of harm’s way. The program features autonomous ground vehicles maneuvering in a mock city environment, executing simulated military supply missions while merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections and avoiding obstacles. The program is conducted as a series of qualification steps leading to a competitive final event, which took place on Nov. 3 in Victorville, Calif. The DARPA Urban Challenge prize winners competed as part of a field of 11 finalists selected from 35 semifinalists that competed in the National Qualification Event prior to the final event. Semifinalists were selected from the original field of 89 competitors.

More info: Victor Tango vehicle

About National Instruments in Academia
National Instruments is committed to enhancing engineering and science education worldwide by providing educators and students with powerful graphical system design software and modular hardware to connect the curriculum with the real world. Professors and students benefit from powerful, professional tools such as NI LabVIEW graphical development software, which helps students visualize and implement engineering concepts. The integration of LabVIEW in the classroom creates an effective, dynamic learning environment – from LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT in primary schools to research laboratories in universities.

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National Instruments is transforming the way engineers and scientists design, prototype and deploy systems for measurement, automation and embedded applications. NI empowers customers with off-the-shelf software such as NI LabVIEW and modular cost-effective hardware, and sells to a broad base of more than 25,000 different companies worldwide, with no one customer representing more than 3 percent of revenue and no one industry representing more than 10 percent of revenue. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, NI has more than 4,500 employees and direct operations in nearly 40 countries. For the past eight years, FORTUNE magazine has named NI one of the 100 best companies to work for in America.

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