For all the times we saw the likes of KITT and Herbie get themselves around the TV screen under their own steam, there is still something simultaneously unnerving and thrilling about watching a car drive right past you with no one on board--for real. To see a driverless car stop at a busy intersection, wait for a gap in the traffic, and then make a left-hand turn makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
We were on site yesterday in Victorville, Calif., where 36 teams are participating in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, a contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense that requires autonomous vehicles to operate in a simulated urban environment. We got a close-up view of the action from two of the testing areas and a look inside the pits of the various teams as they worked on their cars in during the national qualifying event (NQE) for the final race on November 3. Check out our slide show of the DARPA NQE here.