October 8th, 2005


a geeky day

Today was the running of the DARPA Grand Challenge. This event, if you haven't heard of it, combines two ideas near to my heart: AI and road rally. Teams are handed a set of instructions shortly before the start, and their vehicle has to make it to the end of a challenging course within a time limit. The catch: It has to do this all by itself, without human intervention. This is the first year that anyone has actually made it. A team from Stanford has the best time, with two CMU teams close behind. As I write this, two more teams (out of about 30) are still on the course, though both of them have already taken more time than the Stanford team. One of those still has a chance of finishing inside the 10-hour limit, if they can avoid driving off a cliff. I'm rooting for them, partly because they're the only hybrid on the course, and partly because they're from New Orleans.

Also today was the failed launch of Cryosat, an Earth ice coverage mapper. This is geeky because the failure was presaged by the failed launch of the Planetary Society's solar sail experiment; both used the same Russian IUS, which failed to ignite. The first failure was half-assedly covered up by the Russians, who tried instead to blame it on the experimental use of a sub-launched first stage. I guess that coverup isn't going to work any more; the good news out of this is we might see more sub-to-orbit launchings.