BLM Approves DARPA Grand Challenge

from Sierra Times


Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a Decision Record approving the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Grand Challenge scheduled to take place March 13, 2004
The Grand Challenge, the military's field test of autonomous robotic vehicle technology, will cover approximately 225 miles of routes across California and Nevada, beginning in Los Angeles and concluding in Las Vegas. According to Linda Hansen, BLM's Desert District Manager, who signed the decision, the Challenge will be conducted within BLM off-highway vehicle (OHV) open areas and on designated open routes and public roads.

The purpose of the Grand Challenge is to accelerate the development of autonomous (robotic) vehicle technologies that can be applied to military uses and to enhance national security. DARPA will grant a cash award of $1 million to the team that completes the designated course within the shortest time.

DARPA will conduct the field-test of up to 25 robotic vehicles, which will start March 13, 2004, during daylight hours, and, if not completed, may be continued to March 14. Contestants will provide the test vehicles to DARPA, which will control and observe the vehicles during the pre-event inspection and testing, and during the event. Each test vehicle will be closely followed by a control vehicle and DARPA will implement a multi-layered safety and communication system that will allow them to immediately stop any vehicle, as needed.

Hansen's decision also requires DARPA to adhere to stipulations identified by BLM as mitigation measures or conditions of the approved agreement. The decision also requires compliance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Biological Opinion issued under the Endangered Species Act. These protective measures will minimize effects of the event on resource values, species, and their habitats.

DARPA is the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense. The need for the Grand Challenge comes from Congressional authority in the National Defense Authorization Act, which provides that "It shall be a goal of the Armed Forces to achieve the fielding of unmanned, remotely-controlled technology such that, by 2015, one-third of the operational ground combat vehicles of the Armed Forces are unmanned. The root of this directive is that for every unmanned vehicle deployed in combat, American military personnel are removed from harm's way."

The decision record is available online at, along with the stipulations, public appeal procedures, the environmental assessment, and other pertinent documents. For more information regarding the DARPA Grand Challenge contact BLM's Edy Seehafer at BLM's Barstow Field Office (760) 252-6021.



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