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June 20, 2007

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2007 DARPA Urban Challenge in the US: Volkswagen to enter sensor-driven Passat

Autonomous prototype fitted with cutting-edge technology to master urban traffic scenarios in competitive conditions

One of the world’s most unconventional car races gets underway on 3 November: the 2007 DARPA* Urban Challenge. A variety of teams will be entering their “smart” vehicles on a course covering 60 miles of unknown territory and designed to simulate 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. No drivers are permitted, meaning that all cars are navigated and driven by computers. This year’s Urban Challenge will see Volkswagen entering a customised Passat – built by Volkswagen’s research department and its California-based Electronic Research Laboratory (ERL) with the assistance of 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."

Volkwagen 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.

The Electronic Research Laboratory

Since its foundation in 1998, Volkswagen of America’s Electronic Research Laboratory (ERL) has focussed its work on providing customers with smarter vehicles sooner. This involves identifying new technologies and accelerating their development for future vehicle production. Based in Palo Alto, California, the ERL is the only Volkswagen facility of its kind in North America. Its location at the heart of Silicon Valley enables Volkswagen to work directly with the world’s leading high-tech companies and start-ups. These partnerships put the ERL in a position to plan and develop innovative features and applications that are then integrated into Volkswagen vehicles for analysis and testing purposes. Further details concerning the Electronic Research Laboratory are available at www.vwerl.com.

* (DARPA - Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, an organisation of the United States Department of Defense)

All Photos: Volkswagen

(June 14, 2007)


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