A robotically driven and guided Volkswagen Touareg cross/utility vehicle named Stanley won $2 million by finishing first in the recent 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge – a 132-mile (212-km) race for driverless vehicles through the Mojave Desert near Prim, NV.

Stanley, built by a team from Stanford University with support of Volkswagen of America Inc.’s Electronics Research Laboratory, completed the course in 6 hours, 53 minutes and 8 seconds, about 11 minutes faster than the second place finisher from Carnegie Mellon University.

Grand Challenge-winning Stanford Racing Touareg.

The autonomous vehicles traveled without any human assistance during the race.

DARPA, the research and development agency for the U.S. Dept. of Defense, sponsors the Grand Challenge to spur the development of an autonomous vehicle that could be used on the battlefield.

The initial Grand Challenge was run last year, but none of the autonomously driven vehicles traveled more than eight miles (12.8 km) in that competition.

By contrast, there were 23 vehicles in this year’s Grand Challenge finals, culled from an original field of 195. Five teams completed the tortuous course.

Stanley’s time was well under the 10-hour limit set by DARPA. Stanley was a stock Touareg powered by a 5L DOHC V-10 turbodiesel, but the chassis was reinforced to withstand the rough desert course.

The vehicle was equipped with numerous sensors and six onboard computers containing custom-written software. Stanley used a drive-by-wire system developed by VW’s ERL.

A global positioning system, an inertial measurement unit, wheel-speed sensors, lasers, a video camera and a radar system formed the onboard network that guided the driverless vehicle through the 132-mile journey.

Stanley interior shows robotic arm to manipulate automatic transmission.

“The lessons we learned in building this highly complex vehicle will ultimately benefit consumers as we apply this knowledge to make our vehicles safer and smarter,” says VW ERL director Carlo Rummel.