Image: Lotus Elise
NCSU / Lotus Engineering
North Carolina State University says its team will modify a Lotus Elise to compete in the DARPA Urban Challenge next year.
updated 12/8/2006 9:19:22 PM ET 2006-12-09T02:19:22

The Pentagon's research arm reversed course Friday and announced it will restore cash prizes to the top three finishers of a robot race set for next year.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency stripped the monetary prizes in October, saying it no longer had the power to dole out cash incentives under a defense spending law signed by President Bush. Instead, DARPA said the winners would receive shiny trophies.

In a statement released Friday, DARPA said the purse money was restored after it received approval from Kenneth Krieg, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Under the new rules, first place will receive $2 million, second place will get $1 million  and third place $500,000. The amounts for second and third places were doubled from the original purse.

The competition, set for November 2007 in a yet-undisclosed location in the Western United States, is meant to spur development of military vehicles that could fight in war zones without remote control.

The robotic vehicles will have to navigate in under six hours a complex 60-mile (100-kilometer) test course designed like a real city street filled with moving manned and unmanned vehicles. Participants will be tested on how well they make sharp turns, navigate traffic circles and avoid obstacles such as utility poles, trees and parked cars.

DARPA had originally planned to award cash prizes to teams that advanced to the semifinals and finals, but that funding was eliminated and has not yet been restored.

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