For those who have made the long trek out to the Graduate College, in the far corner of parking lot 19 — where juniors are forced to park their cars — sits an abandoned-looking pickup truck with the words Prospect Eleven emblazoned on its side, a light and UFO-looking thing on the roof, and garbage in the trunk. What’s the truck and what’s it doing there?
It was Princeton’s contribution to the DARPA 2005 Grand Challenge, a competition organized by the secretive Department of Defense research agency — it’s kind of like the older, federal, more weaponry-oriented Google X — to build driver-less cars that could make it down a difficult prescribed track. They named the car after the more commonly known Prospect 11, the challenge to chug a beer at each of the eating clubs.
A news report from 2005 described the Princeton entrant car:
Their car, the Prospect 11, is built on a GMC Canyon pickup, a vehicle that had been damaged in transport and was going to be scrapped by GM. The car was donated to the Princeton team instead, who set about building in drive-by-wire components, computers, GPS, and its only sensor, a stereo vision camera.
The car was a joint student-faculty project, but was spearheaded by a set of juniors, according to a final report on the project. During the summer before their senior year, seven students worked on getting the project in motion, looking for funds, and gathering extra parts. Compared to the other teams, the Prospect 11 was pretty hastily put together:
A few weeks before the qualifying rounds, they had also gotten a hold of an inertial measurement unit, which meant they had very little time to integrate its information and test it. And a lot of the programming of these vehicles is done by trial and error; let the car run, and if it’s about to hit an object, stop it and look at its sensor data and how the computer decided to respond.
If you understand computer programming speak (or have taken COS 126 and want to try), here’s the review report from the undergrads who worked on the truck published in the Journal of Field Robotics.
So what’s the truck doing in Lot 19?
It’s been moving around from place to place at the university since it was decommissioned at the competition, said Professor Alain Kornhauser, the project leader. First, it was stored in some of the university’s garages for safekeeping and protection from the elements. Then the truck was moved to Lot 20, near the Dinky, until he got a call a few weeks ago from the university that he had to move it to Lot 19. Prospect Eleven no longer works — most of the electronic insides have been gutted — and it doesn’t have any duties now, but he doesn’t want to get rid of it for sentimental reasons, he said.