Friday, September 23, 2005

Grand Challenge 2005 in the USA

Text and photo from Volkswagen AG.
Successful 200 mile test: Touareg prototype should master the US race for autonomous cars

Wolfsburg, 22 September 2005 - The countdown has begun for what is perhaps the world’s most unusual car race. On 8 October, a convoy of "intelligent" motor vehicles will set out to win or at least master the American "Grand Challenge 2005" – a 175 mile trip across the Southwest desert in the USA. The highlight: the cars will be setting off without a driver on board. Computers will do the thinking and steering. Volkswagen will be taking part in the race with a Touareg prototype. The Touareg, which has been built for the Grand Challenge by Volkswagen Group Research in cooperation with its California-based ERL (Electronic Research Laboratory) and Stanford University, has now covered a 200 mile distance autonomously during the latest tests in Arizona without any faults and at a competitive speed.

Volkswagen considers the successful test of both software and hardware over a track covered with potholes, waterholes and rocks to be an important step in the preparation for the Grand Challenge. The prototypes are also making important technology of the future a little more within reach. This is not about making the driver redundant, but innovative assistance systems will help to make driving even safer in the future. 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. Many of these new driver assistance systems which recognise and analyse the surroundings have been teamed together in the Grand Challenge Touareg. When combined, they can assess the route and any obstacles and steer a vehicle autonomously.

Volkswagen Research unleashed the Touareg prototype "Stanley" from driver control for the first time at the MOTOPARK Oschersleben off-road course on 17 June 2005. The "intelligent" four-wheel drive vehicle mastered the course with ease. The successful test drives in Arizona now reconfirm its performance potential.

In terms of basic technology, the 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, Volkswagen Group Research has also transformed the Touareg into a mobile high-tech laboratory. Numerous sensors and a combination of four laser detectors obtain all the data needed for the driverless car to find its way both quickly and safely. 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 shows the exact location of the vehicle digitally to the exact millimetre.

This concentrated flow of information feeds the high-performance computer centre which is located in the off-road vehicle's luggage compartment and consists of seven interconnected Pentium M mother boards. Using 1.6 GHz processors and complex and unique software, it gives all the steering, acceleration and deceleration commands which then control "Stanley" electronically via “drive-by-wire” systems and can react to any special features of the route in real time.

The Grand Challenge 2005
The Grand Challenge project took place for the first time last year, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and with a prize of one million US dollars. This year the prize money will be two million US dollars. The Grand Challenge 2005 will start on 8 October and will travel across the difficult terrain of the Southwest desert in the United States. The vehicles taking part have a maximum of ten hours to complete a distance of 175 miles (around 282 kilometres) on a route which is not revealed until the start of the race. No form of outside intervention is allowed.


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