Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Up to the challenge

Best friends Craig Anderson and Mark Anderson graduated from UW-Stout in 1989 with applied math degrees. The two have worked together at various companies, including two ventures that they co-founded, since graduation. Currently, they work for Teledyne Scientific Co.—one of the companies that comprises Team Oshkosh, the creator of the unmanned ground vehicle TerraMax. Craig Anderson and Mark Anderson worked on the planning for the vehicle and engineered its autonomous software.

The TerraMax may look like a monster-size Tonka truck, but it may one day save the lives of military troops.

The TerraMax is an unmanned ground vehicle built by Team Oshkosh. Team members and best friends Craig Anderson ’89 and Mark Anderson ’89 were the software architects behind the “brains” of this smart vehicle, which can navigate and drive entirely on its own with no human driver and no remote control.

“My son thinks his dad builds transformers for work,” Craig Anderson said. “How cool is that?”

The two UW-Stout graduates and the rest of Team Oshkosh built the TerraMax to compete in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency sponsors competitions like the Urban Challenge to encourage the research and development of robotic technology and machine intelligence to keep troops off the battlefield and out of harm’s way. The military plans for one-third of its fleet of operational ground combat vehicles to use unmanned technology by 2015.

The software that Craig Anderson and Mark Anderson engineered for the competition allowed the TerraMax to demonstrate human-like driving behaviors, including merging into moving traffic, obeying traffic laws, passing, queuing, parking, observing intersection precedence rules and even replanning in the event of a road blockage.

“It was not uncommon to work upwards of 90 hours per week testing and fine tuning the TerraMax behaviors in preparation for the qualifying events,” Craig Anderson said.

The team’s 14 months of effort paid off when DARPA Director Tony Tether announced that the TerraMax made the cut primarily because of its “A++” qualifying run involving merging into live traffic.

“The team placed in the top 11 along with Stanford, MIT, Carnegie Mellon University and Virginia Tech,” Mark Anderson said.

During the Urban Challenge qualifying rounds, the Discovery Science Channel profiled several Urban Challenge teams, including Team Oshkosh, for a five-part series titled “Robocars” that ran earlier this year.

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