Sebastian Thrun, Professor of Computer Science, Stanford, and Mike Montemerlo, Technical Director, Stanford Racing Team, discuss how they felt Stanford did in the 4 different tests for the 2007 Darpa Urban Challenge. Stanford passed all 4, but had to redo one due to a technicality involving cones.


The DARPA Grand Challenge is a prize competition for driverless cars, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the central research organization of the United States Department of Defense. Congress has authorized DARPA to award cash prizes to further DARPAs mission to sponsor revolutionary, high-payoff research that bridges the gap between fundamental discoveries and their use for national security. DARPA has sponsored two competitions and announced a third using the “Grand Challenge” prize authority, all in the area of autonomous vehicles. DARPA is not restricted from conducting Grand Challenge competitions in other areas in the future.

The first Grand Challenge took place on March 13, 2004 on a desert course stretching from Barstow, California to Primm, Nevada, but did not produce a finisher. At the second DARPA Grand Challenge, held on October 8, 2005, the Stanford Racing Team completed the 212.4 km (132-mile) course in just under 7 hours to win a US$2M prize.

Both the first and second DARPA Grand Challenge competitions advanced the technologies needed to create the first fully autonomous ground vehicles capable of completing a substantial off-road course within a limited time. The third event, The DARPA Urban Challenge, scheduled to take place November 3, 2007, further advances vehicle requirements to include autonomous operation in a mock urban environment.