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Administrative Details

Overview and Objective

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) intends to conduct a challenge of autonomous ground vehicles (see “Technical Details” for a definition) between Los Angeles, CA and Las Vegas, NV in 2004. A cash award will be granted to the winning team. The route will feature both on-road and off-road portions and will include extremely rugged, challenging terrain and obstacles. The purpose of the challenge 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 challenge and is meant to help potential contestants decide whether to participate and, if so, what kind of vehicle to develop. A more detailed set of rules and challenge 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 award will be granted to the eligible team fielding the vehicle that successfully completes the route with an elapsed time that is shorter than the elapsed time of all other challenge 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 awards for any team other than the winner. If no vehicle completes the route within the time limit, the challenge will be repeated approximately annually until the award is earned or Congressional authority to hold the challenge expires.

Competition Date

The challenge will be held on March 13, 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 members who are foreign.


An application will be due prior to the challenge. An application form will be made available on April 1, 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 vehicles 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 challenge, 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 qualification inspection and demonstration will be conducted by the judges the day prior to the race and will include full demonstration of the safety features, verification of required and acceptable hardware, and a short course to demonstrate intelligent autonomous behavior. 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 challenge 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 the challenge. 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 entering 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 route 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 30 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 route will consist of on-road and off-road sections over a range of approximately 250 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 route will be capable of traversal by a commercial four-wheel drive vehicle.

An effort will be made to clear the route of non-competing motor vehicles, but this cannot be guaranteed and vehicles must demonstrate adequate collision avoidance to ensure safety. 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 route for safety or environmental reasons.

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

Waypoints are two-dimensional locations (latitude, longitude) that collectively define the route. Contestants will also be given a maximum time to reach some waypoints. 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 award. The location of the waypoints will be provided two hours before the challenge 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 safety 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 challenge. The location of the checkpoint(s) will be provided well in advance.
Vehicles going outside of the route boundaries will be penalized. 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 challenge. A demonstration of the E-stop capability will be required as part of the preliminary technical inspection.

At least one manned safety vehicle will be required for each fully autonomous entry. The safety vehicle will contain at least a team driver and a judge. The E-Stop control must be remotely operated from this safety vehicle. The safety vehicle must maintain line of sight with the autonomous entry at all times. The safety vehicle will have the ability to communicate with challenge officials over the entire course. Safety 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 challenge vehicle may continue along the route 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 challenge and safety vehicles, the challenge 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 challenge vehicle, breaking the rule for autonomy, the vehicle will be disqualified from winning the challenge. The vehicle may continue on with the route as long it can reach the waypoints in the allotted time, but the team will not be eligible for the cash award. 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 challenge 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 challenge vehicle to demonstrate intelligent autonomous behavior and complete the route as quickly as possible. Interfering with other challenge vehicles will not be allowed. The following will result in the disqualification of a contestant:

  • Intentionally interfering with competing challenge or safety vehicles
  • Intentionally interfering with competing operators
  • Intentionally interfering, spoofing, jamming, or disturbing communications used by competitors or the challenge organizers
  • Intentionally altering the terrain with the purpose of making it more difficult for competitors

Refueling and Repairs

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


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


The challenge will not be postponed due to weather.

Last updated February 14, 2003

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