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Saturday, November 19, 2005

VW Touareg: Autonomous VW Touareg drives massive interest

VW Touareg
As you remember the VW Touareg of Stanford University, called Stanley, won the DARPA Grand Challenge and $2 million. Now it sparks inquiries from entrepreneurs and defense contractors.
"Herbie, meet Stanley."

That was the message of Volkswagen's recent full-page ad in USA Today, comparing the fictional Love Bug, a car with a mind of its own on the race track, with the real-life Stanley, a VW Touareg with a true mind of its own.

It was Stanford University computer scientists who gave Stanley the smarts to drive itself in the 132-mile Grand Challenge robot race last month, but Volkswagen's corporate pride is understandable, as is the play on its advertising slogan -- "Drivers Wanted (but not required)."

Stanley might have taken home the $2 million prize awarded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, but four other robotic vehicles also completed the course through the Nevada desert without human intervention or guidance, outstripping the expectations of many observers.

"It's not a victory for a specific institution," said Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and leader of the Stanford Racing Team. "It was a victory for the field."

Indeed, Thrun's telephone has been ringing regularly ever since, with proposals from defense contractors, entrepreneurs and others with ideas of how to employ autonomous navigation. But so has the phone of William "Red" Whittaker, the Carnegie Mellon University roboticist whose Red Team had the second- and third-place finishers.

"The thing we've got going for us is the success of the Grand Challenge shifted a lot of the belief state," Whittaker said.

In just the past month, a number of government "requests for proposals" have appeared that specify autonomous driving as a requirement.

"There were a lot of great finishes in the Grand Challenge and that shifted a lot of things from intention to action."

Some of that interest is from the military. After all, DARPA, the Pentagon's research and development arm, had sponsored the race to foster innovation in autonomous ground vehicles; the armed forces are facing a mandate to make a third of their vehicles self-driving within the next 10 years.

But Whittaker said the interest in autonomous vehicles is much broader than that, including environmental remediation, mining and agricultural machinery.


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Source: The Detroit News

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