Ghostrider, a riderless motorcycle, will compete in a 175-mile race in the U.S. Southwest.

"Ghostrider," a riderless motorcycle, will compete in a 175-mile race in the U.S. Southwest.


''Ghostrider," the world's first autonomous motorcycle, will be one of the entrants in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Grand Challenge scheduled for October. The competition, sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Defense, requires unmanned vehicles to cross 175 miles of rugged terrain in the U.S. Southwest in less than 10 hr. The Blue Team, a group of engineering students and faculty from UC Berkeley and Texas A&M, was one of 24 finalists in last year's competition.

Competing teams modify trucks or build vehicles from scratch. They develop software and combine sensor, control, and Global Positioning System technologies. But by choosing to modify a four-stroke, 125-cc, off-road motorcycle — a vehicle that must stay in motion to remain upright — the Blue Team has the added challenge of maintaining the bike's balance.

Ghostrider has 32 electronic components. In addition to GPS, the bike uses high-speed cameras as sensor input. A pair of 10-bit grayscale CMOS cameras by Dalsa creates realtime obstacle detection. A single Hitachi 3CCD camera is used for road detection. Ghostrider has achieved speeds over 25 mph for short periods and runs on sand, gravel, grass, and concrete.

The Blue Team's project coordinator, Anthony Levandowski, says the military could find an autonomous motorcycle useful, but the technology could benefit civilians, too. Understanding how a motorcycle balances and knowing when it is about to lose that balance could be helpful in designing protective systems for motorcycles.