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Passat Junior.

The Urban Challenge 2007.
Silver for Volkswagen

It is probably the world’s toughest car race: the Urban Challenge in California, USA. This is no conventional race, however, as it’s not the sportiest performance but the most innovative technology that wins. This is because the Urban Challenge is a contest for computer-controlled vehicles. The Volkswagen research department already scored a memorable victory here with the Touareg prototype “Stanley” in 2005. At the most recent Urban Challenge in November 2007, Volkswagen once again excelled, this time with the Passat prototype “Junior”, whose capabilities earned it the silver medal.

The ideal platform

“Junior” owes its success not least to a fabulous team performance. The Passat prototype was developed in alliance with the California-based Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL) belonging to Volkswagen Group Research, and with Stanford University, under whose patronage it joined the starting line-up as part of the “Stanford Racing Team”. What was it that made the team choose the Passat? Simply the fact that the standard-production version came with ideal credentials: electromechanical power steering, allowing it to be controlled by computer, an electronic accelerator and the DSG dual-clutch gearbox with its extremely fast shift action.

The challenge of city traffic

At the former Victorville airbase in the Mojave Desert, the eleven finalists faced a most daunting challenge: to cover a course nearly 100 km in length – through simulated, dense city traffic. In the process, the contenders had to perform tasks, such as parking and turning manoeuvres, safely and in the shortest time possible. And all by in-vehicle computer power alone. It is no wonder that of the 89 teams that originally entered, only six actually made it to the finish – including, of course, “Junior” in a sensational second place.

Innovations for everyday use

“Together, we have advanced the future of motoring enormously here in the US,” emphasised Prof. Jürgen Leohold, Head of Volkswagen Group Research. “The driver assistance systems built into prototypes such as “Junior” will help to considerably enhance levels of safety and comfort when driving on our roads, because they relieve the strain on the driver.” With the advent of systems such as the ACC automatic distance control, the Park Assist parallel parking system and the Lane Assist lane departure warning system, this future has already begun at Volkswagen.