Autonomous Vehicles Race to Nevada with LabVIEW and NI Hardware

3/12/2004 - National Instruments software and hardware will be riding along with three of the autonomous robotic land cruisers leaving Los Angeles on March 13 and racing to Las Vegas as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge. The three teams sponsored by NI – Team Virginia Tech, Team ENSCO and Axion Racing – used NI LabVIEW software, along with NI PXI, Compact FieldPoint and Compact Vision System (CVS) hardware, to build next-generation designs for vehicles that can travel up to 300 miles across the desert without a driver or remote controls.

The Challenge vehicles will follow the race route without any human interaction, gathering information about their surroundings through sensors to make tactical decisions on route planning, steering and obstacle avoidance. The first vehicle to reach the finish line in less than 10 hours wins a cash prize of $1 million.

Team Virginia Tech, composed of a mix of undergraduate students, master’s candidates and faculty members, integrated NI LabVIEW, PXI and NI Compact FieldPoint units as well as a CVS-1454 Compact Vision System into its vehicle. The products capture and preprocess information from the vehicle’s four main navigation sensors, and then transmit the data to one of three main PXI-1002 navigation and control units. These units perform final integration of the perceived environment and control the vehicle’s steering, throttle and brake. The plug-and-play compatibility of the NI hardware simplified the design process, while the LabVIEW graphical design environment helped the students quickly integrate the hardware components into a working system.

“LabVIEW software and National Instruments hardware were essential tools in the development of our team’s DARPA Grand Challenge vehicle, as well as our unmanned vehicle systems program as a whole,” said Charles Reinholtz, alumni distinguished professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech University. “Many of the students on this year’s team first began using LabVIEW only six months ago. In the short time since then, these students have developed a fully autonomous vehicle capable of cross-country navigation.”

Team ENSCO of Springfield, Va., incorporated LabVIEW Real-Time software, NI PXI hardware, amplifiers, controllers and motors/actuators to form the core of the control system of its vehicle. An NI PXI chassis handles the data acquisition from all vehicle sensors and provides discrete controls through a relay board to systems on the vehicle. In addition, the team took advantage of how easily NI products integrate with other technologies, including the GETEC computer systems that handle the vehicle’s middle and upper-level decision making.

Axion Racing of Westlake, Calif., used NI Compact FieldPoint as an integral part of its sensor integration for the Challenge, as well as NI LabVIEW for controlling vehicle components. The team discovered that integrating NI products was one of the most straightforward aspects of its sensor fusion, and that these components would help the vehicle handle the challenges of qualification and competition.

“We have incorporated 10 different sensors into our NI equipment and we use the Compact FieldPoint system to do everything from switch gears to turn the steering wheel,” said Bill Kehaly, team leader for the Axion Racing Operations Group. “We have appreciated the excellent customer and technical support that NI has provided us during the development process for the 2004 Grand Challenge. We have realized that we would not be able to compete successfully without the inclusion of National Instruments equipment in our Challenge vehicle.”

DARPA, the central research and development organization for the U.S. Department of Defense, created the Challenge to accelerate the development of autonomous vehicle technologies for future application in military endeavors. For more information on the Grand Challenge, readers may visit

About National Instruments
National Instruments ( is a technology pioneer and leader in virtual instrumentation – a revolutionary concept that has changed the way engineers and scientists approach measurement and automation. Leveraging the PC and its related technologies, virtual instrumentation increases productivity and lowers costs through easy-to-integrate software, such as the NI LabVIEW graphical development environment, and modular hardware, such as PXI modules for data acquisition, instrument control and machine vision. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, NI has more than 3,100 employees and direct operations in 40 countries. In 2003, the company sold products to more than 25,000 companies in more than 90 countries. Readers may obtain investment information from the company’s investor relations department at (512) 683-5090, by sending e-mail to or on the Web at

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