The story of how Princeton’s undergraduate team made it to the fiercely competitive DARPA Grand Challenge finals in 2005 is worthy of a Hollywood screenplay. Princeton’s self-driving truck didn’t win (a software glitch did them in) but their heroic efforts drew media coverage and acclaim.

Now the underdog team is back at it again, preparing to compete in DARPA’s newest challenge, which will play out in an urban landscape as opposed to last year’s course through the desert.

The team has just taken delivery of a 2005 Escape donated by Ford and is busy experimenting with stereo vision, automotive radar, and binocular image techniques to help the vehicle self-navigate through a tricky urban course. More than a half-dozen students worked nonstop over intersession break, getting started making the electrical and mechanical modifications that will allow the car to drive itself. “Since the car is a hybrid it is already ‘drive-by-wire,'” team member Gordon Franken told EQN. “This means that the primary systems — steering, brakes and throttle — are all electronically controlled, making it easy for us to fast-track the necessary modifications.”

Today’s Daily Princetonian has a front-page piece on PAVE (short for Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering) and you can follow the team’s exploits on their website. Be sure to check out their hilarious (and informative) videos. Princeton alums in town for Alumni Day Feb. 24 will get an in-depth look at the celebrated 2005 competition and the challenges that lie ahead for the PAVE team.