Volkswagen wins Grand Challenge 2005



Driverless Touareg triumphs in the world’s most technically demanding car race
Driverless Touareg triumphs in the world’s
most technically demanding car race

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20th October, 2005

Volkswagen won the American Grand Challenge 2005 with a Touareg TDI on Saturday 8th October, 2005. Vehicle perfection was the decisive factor between victory and defeat more than in any Formula 1 or World Championship Rally race. The Grand Challenge was a 220 kilometre race for autonomous cars, hence there was no driver. The off-road vehicle, named "Stanley", took on this job itself. After six hours and 54 minutes, the Touareg successfully covered the final metres of a previously undisclosed course in the Mojave Desert. It is therefore the first vehicle to have driven this distance on this type of course autonomously.

Dr. Franz Josef Paefgen, Head of Volkswagen Group Research and Motor Sport, said immediately after completing the race: “This is a fantastic achievement which we are very proud of. A team consisting of Volkswagen Group Research, the Group’s Electronic Research Laboratory (ERL) in Palo Alto, California, and Stanford University developed the Touareg “Stanley” in less than twelve months. We have taken a big step towards the automotive world of the future today.”

Car drivers will experience a new dimension of mobility through innovative driver assistance systems in this world of the future. This is not about making the driver redundant. Assistance systems such as those combined in the prototype “Stanley” for the first time will provide both additional safety and comfort. “This technology will save lives by making driving safer,” said Sebastian Thrun, manager of the successful Touareg team and head of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Stanford School of Engineering.

This technology has already begun its triumphant progress. Take the Passat for example. It is the first vehicle in the mid-class to have adaptive cruise control (ACC and stopping distance control), available as an option. This system recognises dangerous situations using radar measurements and pulls on the brakes as a precaution. Another system is also just about to be used in series production: ESP + driving recommendation. It gives steering impulses in critical situations which cause the driver to take the correct countermeasures intuitively, particularly on surfaces with different levels of grip (for example, dry on the left, wet on the right). The result: the braking distance is up to ten percent shorter.

“Stanley” runs on renewable energy: SunFuel

The success of the computer-controlled Touareg also demonstrated the potential of Volkswagen diesel technology: it was the only vehicle out of the 23 in the Grand Challenge final to use renewable SunFuel for its standard turbo-diesel direct injection (TDI) engine. This synthetic fuel, which is derived from biomass and produces extremely low emissions, is an important pillar of environmentally-friendly transport of the future. SunFuel is almost climate neutral. The greenhouse gas emissions are up to 90 percent lower than those produced by fossil fuels.

High-tech laboratory based on a standard Touareg

In terms of basic technology, the 128 kW/174 PS off-road vehicle is almost the same as the series production model and has simply been modified with complete underbody protection and more powerful shock absorbers. However, the team of developers then turned “Stanley” into a mobile high-tech laboratory. Numerous sensors and a combination of four laser detectors obtained all the data needed for the driverless car to find its way both quickly and safely through the Mojave Desert. The systems were supplemented with stereo visual display units, highly-developed 24-GHz radar equipment and an extremely accurate, satellite-supported GPS navigation system, which showed the exact location of the vehicle digitally to the exact millimetre.

This concentrated flow of information fed the high-performance computer centre, located in the off-road vehicle's luggage compartment and consisting of seven interconnected Pentium M mother boards. Using 1.6 GHz processors and complex and unique software, it gave all the steering, acceleration and deceleration commands which then controlled “Stanley” electronically via “drive-by-wire” systems and could react to any special features of the route in real time. The fact that only five of the 23 finalists completed the Grand Challenge 2005 shows just how well this worked in the competition.

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