This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

October 19, 2005

Ford Escape Hybrid Finishes Fourth in Driverless Vehicle Race

Aerial photo of a Ford Escape Hybrid approaching a curve on a rugged dirt road. The vehicle has solar panels on its roof and is outfitted with sensors in front and flashing warning lights in back.

A robotically controlled Ford Escape Hybrid navigated rough roads and avoided obstacles to finish the Grand Challenge competition.
Credit: DARPA Grand Challenge

For most participants in the DARPA Grand Challenge—a 131.6-mile race of "autonomous vehicles" in the Mojave Desert on October 8th—it was enough of a challenge to design and build a vehicle that could successfully navigate the rugged terrain without help from a driver. Indeed, during the first run of the race last year, the best robotic vehicle traveled less than 8 miles before getting stuck. But this year's race not only featured five vehicles that finished the course, but also included one vehicle that demonstrated fuel economy along the way. The Gray Team vehicle, originally called the "Gray Ghost," is a modified 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid that features solar panels on its roof. The vehicle finished fourth in the race with a time of 7 hours and 30 minutes, a respectable showing, considering that 18 of the 23 vehicles that qualified for the race didn't finish. See the Gray Team's technical paper, which explains why they picked the Ford Escape Hybrid, on the DARPA Grand Challenge Web site (PDF 625 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

The Gray Team was led by Michael and Eric Gray, owners of The Gray Insurance Company, Inc. in Metairie, Louisiana. According to Stanford University, the first-place finishers in the race, the Gray Team's performance was particularly impressive, since some team members had lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina, and the entire team lost precious practice time because of the storm. Keeping their sense of humor, the team renamed their vehicle as "KAT-5." See the Gray Team Web site and the Stanford press release.

The DARPA Grand Challenge was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to prove that autonomous ground vehicles can travel long distances at reasonable speeds. The course was kept secret until the last minute, and featured numerous obstacles and a tunnel that prevented the vehicles from relying on GPS (Global Positioning System) signals. The Stanford Team won $2 million for its first-place finish after completing the course in less than 7 hours. See the Grand Challenge Web site.