After earning a degree in computer science at Otago, Dave went to the USA to work in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. Most of his research was focused on autonomous vehicles that can drive you to work while you catch a little extra shut-eye and smart cars that can park themselves. Dave writes: "Perhaps the most exciting research-related undertaking I've been involved in over the last year is developing an autonomous navigation system for NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers. My advisor and I developed a planning algorithm that the guys at the Jet Propulsion Lab decided they would like on their rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and they twisted our arms (it really wasn't hard) to port it to their systems. So I've been working with a couple guys out in Pasadena and the code finally made it through all of their rigorous testing and is currently shooting across the solar system to be uploaded to the two robots on the surface of Mars."
Since 2007 Dave has been working for Intel in their robotics lab at Carnegie Mellon University. He was planning lead for the Tartan Racing team which won the DARPA Urban Challenge, in which driverless vehicles were required to "navigate through 60 miles of paved and unpaved roads, intersections, parking lots, and obstacle fields. All the vehicles had to abide by the California Road Code and obey traffic precedence and speed limits. They also had to interact with over 30 human driven traffic vehicles and, what is much more terrifying, each other. It was widely believed that this was too large a stretch for the current state of the art, and that no team would complete the challenge this time around. The even took place last Saturday [3 November 2007], with 35 teams making it into the qualifiers and 11 making it to the final (out of an initial field of 153). When the dust settled, six vehicles had made it through the course (with I believe 3 making it without any intervention whatsoever) and the overall winner was our entry from Carnegie Mellon university ... The final race was quite a spectacle -- particularly the first half when all the robotic vehicles were cutting each other off and causing traffic jams. There were several collisions and near collisions to keep the crowd interested (MIT wins the award for biggest bully -- hitting 3 of the other robots, even though it had twice as many sensors and computers as any other vehicle so it really should have seen them) ... At the end of the day, CMU's vehicle `Boss' was about half an hour faster than the second place car from Stanford".