RALEIGH — Watch out, world, for the “Desert Rat”.

Insight Racing’s affectionately named Desert Rat was among the finalists on Saturday in the “Robot Race” put on by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in California.

The modified 1987 Chevy Suburban faced a variety of competitors in the $2 million winner-take-all race for driverless, autonomous vehicles across more than 150 miles of the rough-and-tumble Mojave Desert.

Unfortunately for the Insight team, the Desert Rat failed to complete the entire course. “We were one of the last bots standing,” a team spokesperson told Local Tech Wire.

The winning vehicle had to complete the course within a 10-hour time frame.

In all, five autonomous vehicles completed the course. The Desert Rat finished 12th in total distance covered.

The winner was Stanford’s “Stanley” vehicle, which finished the course in 6 hrs 53 min. Taking second was Red Team Too Sandstorm (Carnegie Melon) 7 hrs and 4 minutes. Third went to Red Team Highlander (Carnegie Melon)7 hrs and 14 minutes. Fourth was Team Gray in just over 7 hrs , and fifth was TerraMax in 12 hours and 51 minutes.

Over 1,100 ground autonomous vehicle miles logged in the race, the Insight spokesperson said.

Called the “Grand Challenge”, the event was put on by one of the United States Department of Defense’s most high-tech agencies — DARPA.

To get to the finals, the Triangle-based team had to weather a series of elimination rounds. Some 43 teams entered vehicles, and 23 made the final race.

To advance, the vehicles without human assistance had to navigate rough roads, avoid obstacles, and travel through a tunnel.

The race is part of DARPA’s efforts to develop military vehicles that can be driven by computers.

“The development of robotics technology will allow us to accomplish both human relief and military missions that pose a threat to our country’s personnel,” said Grayson Randall, the founder of Insight Racing. “We are thrilled to compete in this innovative race which is moving autonomous driving ahead so rapidly.”

Insight Racing, which is a collaborative effort between NCSU and Insight Technologies, includes several North Carolina State University students, members of the Triangle technical community and retired business executives.

None of the 15 vehicles entered in last year’s events completed the course.

Earlier this year, The Desert Rat completed a “rugged” 2.7 mile course at Virginia international Raceway while operating in full autonomous mode

“Since 2003, Insight Racing has been hard at work designing a full-sized, robust, cost-effective vehicle that can travel with no human assistance over the course s rugged terrain,” added Walt Sliva, the team’s business manager. “The sensors on the 1987 Chevrolet Suburban permit it to drive unknown terrain, regulate its speed, and avoid obstacles just like a human driver.”

Insight Racing is a finalist for the second year in a row but did not compete in the 2004 finals due to a lack of funding.

However, the team has landed a number of sponsors this year, including: NC State University, IBM, SAS, Red Hat, Ascot Technologies, BDMICRO, Comtrol, Council & Sons Repair Service, Crossbow, Frantz Automotive, Lord Corporation, PC MedEvac, SICK, and Smith Anderson.

For information about the event, see: www.grandchallenge.org

Insight Racing: www.insightracing.org