Local News

Raleigh Group Revs Up With Lotus For Robotic Vehicle Competition

Posted November 16, 2006

— When

Insight Racing

sends a team to participate in the next autonomous controlled vehicle competition put on by the Pentagon, the Raleigh-based group will roll out a real attention getter.

The “NC Flyer.” After a naming contest among North Carolina State students, the car was titled "Lone Wolf."

Thanks to sponsorship from Lotus Engineering, Insight Racing will compete with a $40,000-plus Elise sports car model provided by the British carmaker.

And Walt Sliva, a retired engineer and adjunct professor at North Carolina State University who is part of the Insight team, could not be happier.

“Last year, we were there on the cheap with a 1987 Chevy Suburban,” said Sliva. “We didn’t get a lot of press out there. People looked at us as sort of an after-thought while others had Hummers and things like that.”

Insight Racing, which was formed in 2003, didn’t lack anything in technology, however. The team, which includes researchers and students from NCSU as well as private industry participants led by founder Grayson Randall, finished 12th among nearly 200 entries in a grueling cross-country competition put on by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

DARPA is sponsoring annual “Grand Challenge” competitions to foster development of autonomous vehicle control technology. By 2015, the Pentagon wants a third of its vehicles to be able to operate with robots and computers, not humans, at the controls.

Sliva is hopeful that the shiny Lotus will draw attention to the technology that the Insight team continues to create.

“If that doesn’t get us attention,” Sliva said, “what will?

“We are competitive on a technology basis, but we weren’t competitive on a looks basis, on the glamour. Maybe people will take us seriously with our $40,000 car.”

The 2007 event will be an “Urban Challenge,” with vehicles required operate in city conditions for up to six hours without any human intervention. All traffic laws must be obeyed. The finals are set for Nov. 3, 2007.

“Lotus is happy to support Insight Racing in the Urban Challenge,” said Don Graunstadt, chief executive officer of Lotus Engineering, in a statement. “We are impressed with Insight’s proven record and are looking forward to working together. Driving exciting technology leadership is the foundation of activities at Lotus Engineering.”

Lotus Cars USA is providing the Elise, and Lotus Engineering, which is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., will provide engineering support. Simon Cobb, director of North Carolina operations for Lotus Engineering, and Dick Dell, executive director of the Advanced Vehicle Research Center in Northampton County, and Randall, the Insight founder, were on hand Wednesday when Lotus presented the Elise to the team. Lotus Engineering is building a facility at the Advanced Vehicle Research Center.

Technology developed for the Insight effort already is being used at NCSU.

“While the technology is being developed for defense purposes, it has potential for spin-off into everyday life,” said Robert Fornaro, a professor of computer science and director of the Senior Design Center at NCSU.

Insight Racing will test the Elise and technology deployed on the vehicle at the Advanced Vehicle Research Center.

Other corporate sponsors of Insight Racing include Comtrol, SICK, Ascot Technologies, Inc., BD Micro, and PC MedEvac.

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