Volkswagen of America, Inc. announced today that its Electronics Research Lab (ERL) and the Stanford University Racing Team will participate in this year’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Urban Challenge on November 3, 2007 with an autonomously-driven diesel-powered Passat wagon. “After our victory at the last DARPA Grand Challenge, Volkswagen is excited to join the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge,” said Dr. Burkhard Huhnke, director, Electronics Research Laboratory, Volkswagen of America, Inc. “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 benefit our customers by making driving safer and more enjoyable in today’s increasingly dense traffic.” Autonomous driving is an important topic for Volkswagen Research. The last decade has seen several driver assistance systems come to market that improve the handling in dynamic driving situations. Driver assistance systems such as Electronic Stability control, Electronic Parking Assistance and Adaptive Cruise Control have all been designed and implemented to make the task of driving safer, easier, and more enjoyable. “While fully autonomous driving may be a possibility for the future, it is not Volkswagen’s intent to replace the driver,” said Huhnke. “By pursuing a stretch goal, such as an autonomously driven vehicle, we are able to advance certain aspects that will be of use in more conventional and current driver assistance and safety systems.” For this year’s DARPA Urban Challenge, the autonomously-driven Passat wagon — named ‘Junior’ in homage to Leland Stanford Jr., founder of Stanford University — will compete on a 60-mile mock urban course that involves merging with traffic, crossing traffic circles and negotiating busy intersections while following traffic laws. Volkswagen of America’s ERL helped outfit the Passat wagon TDI with computer-controlled electromechanical power steering and electric throttle, gear shifter and parking brake. Custom mountings for the wide array of sophisticated sensors were also designed and built at the ERL. Intel Core 2 Duo processors, with multiple processing units per chip, make up the car’s “brains.” Together with the software developed at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, the car will be truly autonomous. Volkswagen won the $2 million grand prize at the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge with a diesel powered Touareg named Stanley. Stanley defeated 22 other unmanned vehicles in a rigorous, 132-mile championship race over rough desert roads, mountain trails, dry lake beds and tunnels, using only onboard sensors and navigation equipment.