RALEIGH  – The run of the “Lone Wolf” came to a disappointing close Thursday at the DARPA Urban Challenge in California.

The team dropped a note to The Skinny noting that its autonomously controlled blue Lotus sports car, or “autobot,” failed to make the finals, which are set for Saturday at a former Air Force base in California.

In a blog Insight Racing, which was sponsored by Insight Technology in the Triangle and included North Carolina State University students, the team noted its disappointment.

“We are pleased we were in the 19 remaining teams …but DARPA selected only 11 teams to proceed to the finals on Saturday,” the team noted.

Wired magazine, which has covered the Defense Advanced Projects Agency robotic vehicle competition, noted that DARPA picked only 11 “driverless vehicles” for safety reasons.

With $3.5 million in prize money at stake, the autonomously controlled finalists will be pitted against a 60-mile urban road course complete with “live” traffic. The autobots must complete the course in less than six hours, navigate a host of turns, avoid obstacles and mix it up with 50 vehicles driven by humans. First place is worth $2 million.

The goal of the competition is to help the pentagon build vehicles that can operate someday in a hostile environment (such as Baghdad) without any human intervention. And the Urban Challenge, like the desert competition in 2004.

Wired noted that several autobots/bots (choose your term) “drove into trouble – some crashed, some made dangerous turns, and some flew off the course entirely.”

In fact, Wired’s blogger made the event sound as if it were populated by renegade R2D2s.

“The Golem Group’s vehicle decided it had had enough of being a nice little robot about and hour ago here at the DARPA Urban Challenge, stepped on the gas, and tried to escape,” Wired reported.

That simply wasn’t acceptable in the judges’ opinion. After all, DARPA’s primary rule, which sounds as if it came right out of Isaac Asimov’s “I Robot” is “Don’t Hit Anyone!”

Insight’s team wasn’t alone in its disappointment. Georgia Tech’s Sting race team was cut before the Lone Wolf. However, a Virginia Tech team did make the finals.

Making the finals were:

  • Victor Tango
  • CarOLO
  • Ben Franklin Racing Team
  • Team Cornell
  • Stanford Racing Team
  • Tartan Racing
  • MIT
  • Team UCF
  • Team AnnieWay
  • Intelligent Vehicle Systems
  • Team Oshkosh Truck

Better luck next time, Lone Wolf and Insight.

(By the way, DARPA will provide a live Web cast of the finals. Check out the DARPA Urban Challenge web link for details.)