June 19, 2007 One of the world’s most unconventional car races gets underway on November 3 when 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge kicks-off at an as yet undisclosed location. A variety of teams will be entering their “smart” vehicles on a course covering 60 miles of simulated urban driving conditions – the aim being to post the fastest time while, of course, observing traffic regulations. This requires participating vehicles to merge into traffic, cross roundabouts and negotiate busy intersections – all without drivers, remote control - meaning that all cars will be navigated and driven by computers and sensors. Stanford won the last Grand Challenge using a VW base vehicle and one of the favorites for this year’s event is this customized Passat built by Volkswagen’s California-based Electronic Research Laboratory (ERL) with assistance from Stanford University.
The Passat “Junior” – named in tribute to Stanford University founder Leland Stanford Jnr. – is fitted with electromechanical power steering, an electric accelerator pedal, a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) and an electric handbrake. Volkswagen of America’s Electronic Research Laboratory modified these electric systems and the brakes to make the vehicle 100% computer-controlled. Custom-made mountings for the array of sophisticated sensors were likewise designed and built by the ERL. The vehicle’s “brain” comprises Intel Core 2 Duo processors featuring two multiple-processing units per chip. Together with software developed at Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the vehicle will be genuinely autonomous.
“After our victory at the last DARPA Grand Challenge, Volkswagen is excited to join the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. We see an opportunity to further advance intelligent technologies for use in passenger vehicles of the future. The features developed for the Urban Challenge will ultimately make driving safer and more enjoyable in today’s increasingly dense traffic”, explains Dr. Burkhard Huhnke, head of Volkswagen’s Electronic Research Laboratory. And he adds: “In the fuel-efficient diesel-powered Passat we have the perfect car for this challenge, just as our Touareg ‘Stanley’ was for its 2005 Grand Challenge triumph.”
Volkswagen won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge with a Touareg TDI by the name of Stanley. Using onboard sensors and navigation features, Stanley defeated 22 other unmanned vehicles in a demanding 132-mile championship race taking in rough desert roads, mountain passes, dried-up lakes and tunnels. Stanley completed the race without a single glitch, posting a winning time of six hours and 54 minutes.