Four robotic driverless vehicles crossed the finish line and into the history books on Saturday after traversing almost 132 miles of desert terrain in Primm, Nevada, guided only by laser sensors and onboard computers.
The race which was sponsored by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) aimed to encourage the development of driverless vehicles that one day could carry water, fuel and other supplies for the US military in war zones.
Last year, in the inaugural race sponsored by DARPA, called the Grand Challenge, every machine failed within sight of the starting line. This year the Pentagon decided to double the prize to $2 million and hold the event again this year.
The competition this year began at 6.40am on Saturday, in the car park of Buffalo Bill's, a brightly lit casino on the border of California and Nevada. Some 5,000 spectators turned up to watch, with news helicopters hovering overhead. Each robotic vehicle was given 10 hours to complete the 132-mile course, with staggered starting times to avoid collisions.
Twenty-three modified Humvees, SUVs, pickup trucks and dune buggies were sent into the mountains and valleys in the Nevada desert to navigate man-made obstacles, tunnels and a dry lake bed just after sunrise on Saturday.
The rugged, twisting Mojave Desert course, about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas on the Nevada-California border, was chosen because of its similarity to terrain where the US military is currently most active, Iraq and the Middle East.
Using global positioning satellites and inertial navigation, the vehicles were programmed to follow a pre-defined course disclosed only hours before the race. Radar, lasers and cameras mounted on the vehicles' guided onboard computers that steered the vehicles around obstacles and get through tunnels where GPS wouldn't work.
"Stanley", a customized Volkswagen robot built by Stanford University, crossed the finish line first in a robot race sponsored by the Pentagon.