When DARPA ran their first Grand Challenge event for autonomous vehicles a few years ago it was a complete fiasco. Most of the competitors never even got away from the starting line and the best vehicles made it only 7.4 miles into the 150 mile desert course. A repeat attempt a year later resulted in five finishers on a shorter 120 mile course. The winner was a VW Touareg TDI entered by Stanford University and Volkswagen.

This year, DARPA moved the event to an urban environment where the cars had to obey traffic regulations, avoid pedestrians and interact with other traffic, all without external intervention. Stanford was back along with 137 other teams. This time Stanford used a Passat TDI wagon as their base. After the initial site visits late last spring the organizers winnowed the entrants to 35 that would compete in the National Qualifying Event last week. From that preliminary competition, eleven teams moved on to the final this week of which six completed the full 60 mile course within the six hour time limit. "Junior" was among the finishers but along with the Virginia Tech team made some errors on the course such as jumping a curb and questionable passing maneuvers. The other top finisher was the team from Carnegie Mellon University. The organizers are tallying the results and will announce a winner later today.

[Source: Volkswagen, Wired]
VOLKSWAGEN'S PASSAT WAGON "JUNIOR" FINISHES THE DARPA URBAN CHALLENGE

"Junior" one of only six robotic vehicles to finish DARPA Urban Challenge

VICTORVILLE, Calif.
– Volkswagen of America, Inc. has announced that Stanford Racing Team's autonomous Passat wagon, "Junior", has successfully finished the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Urban Challenge.

"We could not be more pleased with our finish in this tough competition," said Dr. Burkhard Huhnke, executive director, Electronics Research Laboratory, Volkswagen of America, Inc. "Junior performed exceptionally and has helped provide Volkswagen with valuable information as we continue to work on advancing passenger safety technologies and help to bring these technologies to future drivers.

"This research is an important step for Volkswagen Research towards the next generation of vehicle electronics, and vehicle safety features that will ultimately benefit our customers," Huhnke continued.

"Junior" is one of only 11 vehicles that advanced to the final round of the DARPA Urban Challenge, an autonomous driving challenge where vehicles traverse an urban environment for 60 miles – merging with moving traffic, navigating traffic circles and busy intersections, avoiding obstacles and finding parking spots. Out of 167 teams who participated in the DARPA "Site Visit" in June and July 2007, 35 were chosen to advance to the National Qualifying Event, held October 26-31.

"The last decade has seen the acceptance of numerous electronic systems that improve the driver's ability to handle dynamic driving situations, increase comfort during longer drives or assist parking maneuvers," said Huhnke. "All of these systems are designed primarily to make the task of driving safer, easier and more enjoyable and also safer."

"Pushing the concept of driver assistance to its limit, a car will someday be able to drive autonomously, either temporarily or for the full extent of the drive," said Dr. Sebastian Thrun, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, Stanford University. "Junior has been an excellent means to test the many aspects of autonomous driving technology; these can be used for immediate applications in more "conventional" driver
assistance and safety systems."

"Junior" – a Passat wagon modified by the Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL) in Palo Alto, Calif. in cooperation with Stanford University has been made possible through the team sponsors, Red Bull, Intel, Google, MDV (Mohr Davidow Ventures), NXP and ApplAnix. Volkswagen and Stanford successfully partnered to win the DARPA Grand Challenge in October 2005 with "Stanley", a Volkswagen Touareg TDI.

Founded in 1955, Volkswagen of America, Inc. is headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan. It is a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany. Volkswagen is one of the world's largest producers of passenger cars and Europe's largest automaker. Volkswagen sells the Rabbit, New Beetle, New Beetle convertible, GTI, Jetta, GLI, Passat, Passat wagon, Eos, and Touareg through approximately 600 independent U.S. dealers. Visit Volkswagen of America online at vw.com.



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