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Administrative Details

Overview and Objective

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) intends to conduct a race of autonomous ground vehicles (see “Technical Details” for a definition) from the vicinity of Los Angeles, CA to Las Vegas, NV in 2004. A cash prize will be awarded to the winner. The course will feature both on-road and off-road portions and will include extremely rugged, challenging terrain and obstacles.  The purpose of the race is to stimulate interest in and encourage the accelerated development of autonomous ground vehicle technologies that could be used by the US military. 

This document contains a detailed description of the race and is meant to help potential contestants decide whether to participate and, if so, what kind of race vehicle to develop.  A more detailed set of rules and race description will be released on February 22, 2003.  The official rules, updates, and application instructions will be made available on the DARPA Grand Challenge website:

Awards and Recognition

A $1,000,000 cash prize will be awarded to the eligible team fielding the vehicle that successfully completes the course with an elapsed time that is shorter than the elapsed time of all other race vehicles and is within a pre-set maximum time limit.  The winning team will be officially recognized at the next DARPATech, a technical conference hosted by DARPA.  The winning team will be invited to display the winning vehicle and present a paper detailing their design. 

There will be no prizes for anything other than first place.  If no vehicle completes the course within the time limit, no prize will be awarded. 

Competition Date

The race will be held on February 28, 2004.


The race is open to US entities.  This includes US corporations, US non-profit organizations, US universities, sole proprietors that are US citizens or permanent residents, and partnerships of US citizens or permanent residents.  US teams may have individual members who are foreign.


An application will be due prior to the race.  An application form will be made available on February 22, 2003.  Applications must be received at DARPA on or before October 13, 2003.  Once the application is received, contact information for the team will be made available to potential sponsors. 

A technical paper describing the proposed design of the team will also be due on or before October 13, 2003.  A description of the requirements for this paper will be provided on February 22, 2003.  This paper will be reviewed by a judging panel to ensure that the design can meet safety and eligibility requirements.  The panel will also judge the technical competence of the design and may reject incomplete or ineffectual proposals.  The criteria to be used for this preliminary qualification will be provided on February 22, 2003.  Papers that have been rejected for any reason may be modified and re-submitted up until the October 13, 2003 deadline.  After the race, these papers will be released to the public as part of the proceedings of the event.



The specific rules of the competition are intended to be broad and allow the greatest possible technical innovation. A team of judges will determine compliance with all rules.  In interpreting the rules of the competition, the judges will be guided by the principles outlined in this document.  The judges will consist of DARPA government personnel as well as contractors appointed by DARPA.  The DARPA personnel will have final decision authority on all topics; there will be no appeals. 

Official times and measures will be determined by the judges. 

An official technical inspection and safety review will be made by the judges for each entry several days prior to the race and will include full demonstration of the safety features, verification of required and acceptable hardware, and a review of the safety plans for all energy radiators (lasers, radars, etc.) or potentially hazardous equipment.  Items deemed to have a negative impact on the environment or infrastructure will be brought to the attention of the team for remediation. 

A “Frequently Asked Questions” page can be found on the DARPA Grand Challenge website.  This provides an official interpretation of many of the rules in order to assist contestants.  However, the judges will be the final authority in the interpretation of all rules. 

The organizer of the competition, DARPA, reserve the exclusive right to revise the schedule of the race and to change or provide interpretation of the rules at any time and in any manner, which, in their sole judgment, is required for efficient operation or safety of the competition.


Teams will be required to sign an application form prior to race.  The Application Form will contain an Indemnification Agreement that will need to be executed by the lead participant or an individual from the team's sponsoring institution who has authority to bind the institution for which he or she signs.  

Additionally, the team's sponsoring institution will also be required to supply a Certificate of Insurance at the time the Application Form is submitted. The certificate is to show commercial general liability coverage of at least $1 million.

Funding and Sponsorship

The cost of developing, fielding, and insuring the vehicles is the sole responsibility of the teams.  DARPA will not provide funding for the purpose of developing or racing a vehicle for this competition. U.S. federal government agencies may not field a team and no government owned equipment can be used by a team during the competition. 

Teams are allowed to obtain sponsorship and display advertising so long as such advertisements are not considered offensive by the judges.

Technical Details

Vehicles must be unmanned (no humans or other biological entities onboard) and autonomous.  They must not be remotely driven.  

Only single independent, untethered ground vehicles are eligible.  No sub-vehicles will be allowed.  All computing and intelligence must be contained onboard.  Apart from the emergency stop feature (see Safety), automatic communication with autonomous equipment at the checkpoints (see Checkpoints) and GPS signals, no external communication is allowed.

There is no size, weight, or propulsion limit on the ground vehicle; the nature of the course will dictate practical limits.  

The entry must be a ground vehicle.  That is, it must remain in contact with the ground at all times except for short duration jumps of less than 5 seconds.    

The vehicles must not damage the environment or infrastructure.

No classified data or devices can be used by a team during or in preparation for this race. 
The course will consist of on-road and off-road sections over a range of approximately 300 miles between Los Angeles, CA and Las Vegas, NV.  Terrain may consist of various road surfaces ranging from wet or dry pavement, sand, soil, or rock.  The course will be capable of traversal by a commercial vehicle such as a pick-up truck. 

The course will be cleared of non-competing motor vehicles.  Obedience to traffic signs, signals, conventions, and rules is not required.  However, it may be necessary to impose a speed limit on portions of the course.

The course will be defined by a series of waypoints, checkpoint(s), and boundaries.

Waypoints are two-dimensional locations (latitude, longitude) that collectively define the course.  Contestants will also be given a maximum time to reach each waypoint.  Vehicles that do not reach a waypoint in the maximum allotted time will be disqualified and must be removed from the course.  Note that the maximum time given to contestants to reach each waypoint will be greater than the time corresponding to the pace required to win the cash prize.  The location of the waypoints will be provided two hours before the race in a format that will be described well in the official rules of the race.  

A checkpoint is a required safety stop at a pre-defined location on the course.  The chase vehicle occupants can be rotated or refreshed with no time penalty against the autonomous vehicle.  The elapsed time for each vehicle will stop during the mandatory portion of a stop.  In addition, an entry may be serviced autonomously (for example, refueled or cleaned).  Any required autonomous servicing equipment must be placed at the checkpoint prior to the start of the race.  The location of the checkpoint(s) will be provided well in advance of the race. 
Vehicles going outside of the course boundaries will be disqualified.  Boundaries will be provided as an offset from segments connecting adjacent waypoints.


All aspects of the vehicle must be deemed safe by a panel of judges.  A safety review will be performed based on the initial application and paper, with feedback being provided to each team.  A final safety determination will be made during a preliminary technical inspection session to be conducted several days prior to the race.

Each vehicle must be equipped with both an easily accessible manual and a wireless (RF) remote emergency (E-Stop) capability.  Activating the E-Stop must rapidly bring the vehicle to a complete halt.  The manual E-Stop must be easy to identify and activate safely, even if the vehicle is moving.  The wireless E-Stop must maintain a link with the vehicle and have a dead man feature, so that loss of communications with the vehicle activates the E-Stop.  Upon reestablishment of communication, the vehicle shall be able to restart itself and autonomously continue with the race.  A demonstration of the E-stop capability will be required as part of the preliminary technical inspection. 
At least one manned chase vehicle will be required for each fully autonomous entry.  The chase vehicle will contain a driver, a team member, and a judge.  The E-Stop control must be remotely operated from this chase vehicle.  The chase vehicle must maintain line of sight with the autonomous entry at all times. The chase vehicle will have the ability to communicate with race officials over the entire course.  Chase vehicles will have onboard equipment for the safety of its occupants including safety restraints, fire suppressants, and first aid materials.

The judge or team member may direct a mandatory E-stop by the vehicle for safety reasons.  After the safety issue is resolved, the race vehicle may continue with the race and the time of the stop will not count towards the elapsed time of the vehicle.  If an E-stop is activated due to lack of line-of-site or lack of positive communication between the race and chase vehicles, the race vehicle may continue with the competition, however the time of the stop will count towards the elapsed time of the vehicle.  If the E-stop is activated by a team member to stop or prevent an unwanted action by the race vehicle, breaking the rule for autonomy, the vehicle will be disqualified from winning the race.  The vehicle may continue on with the course as long it can reach the waypoints in the allotted time, but the team will not be eligible for the cash prize.  If, in the opinion of the judge, the team directed E-stop was used to prevent an un-safe condition that was not the fault of the race vehicle, the team will not be disqualified and the time of the stop will not count towards the elapsed time of the vehicle.


The goal of this competition is for the race vehicle to complete the course as fast as possible.  Interfering with other race vehicles will not be allowed.  The following will result in the disqualification of a contestant:

Refueling and Repairs

Autonomous refueling and repairs will be allowed at a checkpoint.  That is, equipment for refurbishing the race vehicle must be set-up at the check point prior to the start of the race.  Other than the E-Stop, no human (or other biological entity) may send commands to or otherwise control the equipment once the race begins. 

Only commercially available data (maps, images, other cartographic products) may be downloaded to the autonomous or chase vehicles prior to the race.  Use of GPS is acceptable.


The race will not be postponed due to weather.