Question Sheet: Robots on a Rocky Road


Before reading:

  1. How far do you think an unmanned car equipped with sensors and navigation equipment could go on its own without crashing? What factors might determine the distance that the vehicle travels?
  2. What is a “smart” technology?

During reading:

  1. What does DARPA stand for?
  2. Why are self-controlled, or autonomous, vehicles important to the U.S. military?
  3. What disasters befell the competing vehicles?
  4. Describe Carnegie Mellon’s vehicle. How much did it cost?
  5. What was the race’s route? When did DARPA officials reveal it?
  6. What happened to the Palos Verdes High School vehicle Doom Buggy?

After reading:

  1. If you were to change the rules of the race for next year, what would you suggest that DARPA do differently?
  2. Besides military applications, how else might “smart” cars benefit people?
  3. Name some other technologies that were originally designed for the military but are now used everyday by people who aren’t in the military. (If you can’t think of any examples, you can always do some research on the Internet.)
  4. Compare and contrast the advantages of using a vehicle such as a golf cart instead of a Humvee for the race.
  5. What were the main problems that prevented all of the vehicles from getting very far?


  1. Write a newspaper article about the race as if you were a reporter at the event.
  2. Design a contest that would help the advancement of a certain technology. Which technology would you pick? What would the contest rules be? Where or under what conditions would the contest take place?


  1. In what ways was the terrain an important factor in the Grand Challenge race?
  2. Why do you think the competition organizers chose desert conditions?
  3. How might the vehicles have to be different for a forested or mountainous area?


The following table lists how far vehicles that started the Grand Challenge race went before crashing or suffering some other problem that kept them from continuing.


Distance traveled (miles)

Red Team
SciAutonics II
Team Caltech
Digital Auto Drive
SciAutonics I
Team TerraMax
The Golem Group

  1. Plot a bar graph showing how far each vehicle traveled.
  2. Which team’s vehicle traveled the farthest? What percentage of the race’s total distance, 142 miles, did the vehicle manage to cover?
  3. What was the average distance traveled by the nine vehicles? What was the median distance traveled by the vehicles?