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Stanley - winner of the Grand Challenge 2005.

October 8, 2005 is a day that is bound to go down in the history of computer science and automotive technology. The Touareg TDI® “Stanley” was the first to cross the line of the second “Grand Challenge”, a desert race for robotic vehicles, in a time of exactly six hours, 53 minutes and 58 seconds. “That’s for people who claim that cars cannot drive themselves. They are the same sort of people who said that the Wright Brothers would never fly,” remarked Professor Thrun, the leader of the winning team, as soon as “Stanley” crossed the finishing line.

There was no driver behind the wheel of the winning car, but a team of six networked computers, who piloted the Touareg safely through the Mojave Desert south of Las Vegas at a rapid average speed of 30.7 kilometres per hour. “Stanley” was developed by the Volkswagen Electronic Research Laboratory (ERL) and the Stanford School for Engineering.

The “Grand Challenge” is the world’s first ever race for computer-controlled vehicles. The project was the brainchild of the “Defense Advanced Research Project Agency” (DARPA) in the US. When the first race was held in March 2004, however, there was no winner – none of the 15 autonomous vehicles that started the race made it to the finish, and only five succeeded in doing so in the 2005 race.

A series-production Touareg featuring an in-line 5-cylinder TDI® engine and a 6-speed automatic gearbox only underwent minor modifications before its participation in the “Grand Challenge”: a full underguard and reinforced shock absorbers were the only design allowances made for the rigorous demands of desert operation. Otherwise, it was just a matter of attaching and installing the necessary systems. The findings from this successful project will be used at Volkswagen for making future driver assistance systems more effective and thereby boosting both driving comfort and safety.