I'm giving a bunch of links on the DARPA Urban Challenge, not only because it's a prominent innovation incentive prize program that will undoubtably show a lot about how (and perhaps a bit of how not) to run such competitions, but also because I can imagine this type of robot car technology being featured in space applications (rovers, Moon buggies, etc) or even space prize competitions.
Here's the best site I've seen on the DARPA Urban Challenge. Control Engineering has a blog that's covering the Challenge. Among other things, this blog has a series of detailed posts on dozens of the teams competing in the challenge. It's full of pictures, too. I recommend starting in the archives so you can pick up with Team #1.
There are a lot of other articles on the challenge. Many of them are on teams passing DARPA's on-site review.
Autonomous vehicles: Leave the driving to the car - also in Control Engineering; discusses the University of Minnesota team's Lone Wolf racecar.
Minnesota Public Radio also has an article on the Lone Wolf. They also have a cool video of the robot racer instead of much driving around the race track.
Technology Evangalist also put together a video with background on the modified Lotus than going around the track.
Team Oshkosh and TerraMax Chosen to Compete in DARPA Urban Challenge, by Motor Trend's "Truck Trend". This one's a big truck by Oshkosh Truck Corporation.
Space Daily has a DARPA Urban Challenge story in their "Robo Space" category titled "Drive-By-Wire And Human Behavior Systems Key To Virginia Tech Urban Challenge Vehicle". "VictorTango has converted two Escape hybrids donated by Ford Motor Co. into autonomous vehicles by outfitting them with a "drive-by-wire" system, a powerful computer system, laser scanners, cameras, and a GPS" according to one of the team members. This is one of the teams that got $1M to help them in the challenge, and they've also gotten $100,000 from Caterpillar, and also other sponsorship funds.
KCPW News in Salt Lake City has a post about 3 Utah teams that advanced in the challenges. They emphasize that the current steps in the technology can be put to business use even before the technology meets the needs of the challenge sponsors. For example, they can already configure a tractor to plow fields without a driver with the robot car technology. That's a good lesson for folks with ambitious space plans - get to your big goal using steps that pay for themselves.
DARPA Names MIT's 'robocar' a semifinalist - from MIT news. "The MIT vehicle uses multiple laser range scanners, high-rate video cameras and automotive radar units to perform autonomous planning and motion control."
Here's a collection of photos of the MIT entry sprouting all sorts of sensors. It's probably easiest to view them as a slide show.
TG Daily has some good DARPA Challenge posts. It sounds like they may continue the series of team interviews.
Shoestring budget won't stop Princeton Urban Challenge team - They had a good way to figure out what kind of vehicle to use - a Ford Escape Hybrid. "We picked it because it was free". There are some interesting tradeoffs the team has made to enable them to solve the problems in the particular environment they will encounter without spending much money on hardware. It goes into some technical details (without being at all difficult to read) like GPS (which every space person should understand) and image processing to distinguish different types of features. I liked this one.
Axion Racing Interview - This one also goes into the sensors, like laser range finders, cameras, FLIR (I think that's foreward-looking infrared radar), and radar. It covers things you might not thing about at first, like having the computers ignore windshield wiper imagery noise. This one's a sturdy armored truck, so they're not worried about crashing into the light racecars ... but that Oshkosh giant is another story.
Car Buyer's Notebook has an article about "Junior", a Passat wagon that's in the Challenge.