Penn's Autonomous Car "Little Ben" Advances to the Semi-Finals of the DARPA Urban Challenge

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Media Contact:Jordan Reese | | 215-573-6604August 9, 2007

PHILADELPHIA - "Little Ben," the autonomous vehicle engineered by University of Pennsylvania and Lehigh University faculty and students to drive itself has advanced to the semi-finals of the DARPA Urban Challenge.  

The "souped-up" Toyota Prius will now compete in the national qualifying trials on Oct. 26-31 in Victorville, Calif.  The top 20 finishers will advance to the finals on Nov. 3, where they must safely drive themselves through a 60-mile urban course in less than six hours, obeying traffic laws while merging into moving traffic, negotiating intersections and avoiding obstacles. The three fastest finishers will receive cash prizes of $2 million, $1 million and $500,000.  Of the 89 original entrants, only 36 advanced to the semifinals.

"Little Ben" is the product of the Ben Franklin Racing Team, a consortium led by Penn, with partners Lehigh and Lockheed MartinAdvanced Technology Laboratories.

DARPA selected the Ben Franklin Racing Team to participate in the semifinals after a successful demonstration on July 8 at Lehigh.  "Little Ben" navigated a four-way intersection, followed basic navigation and traffic laws, avoided obstacles and reacted intelligently to events.  The car also successfully interacted with other vehicles by passing at appropriate times and demonstrated an understanding of intersection precedence.

"It's extremely gratifying to take knowledge from the classroom and see it at work in the field," Dan Lee, team leader and associate professor in the Penn Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering, said.  "But we have our work cut out for us to prepare for the upcoming race."

Penn participants hail from the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Lab, housed in Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science.  The GRASP Lab is an inter-disciplinary research center with expertise drawn from the departments of Computer and Information Science, Electrical and Systems Engineering and Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics.  

Videos of "Little Ben" are at

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency holds the Urban Challenge to foster the development of autonomous robotic ground vehicle technology, a goal of the not-too-distant future backed by an act of Congress.

Additional  information on Grand Challenge is available at