Feb 152006
 
Stanley the Stanford University Volkswagen

Stanley the Stanford University Volkswagen

Fresh off their 1st place finish at Darpa’s Grand Challenge 2005 and not content to rest on their laurels, the robotics experts from Stanford University have announced their next goal is to develop an autonomous vehicle capable of driving from San Francisco City Hall to downtown Los Angeles, at highway speeds no less! Gizmodo.com has a summary today of an article published last weekend by the Palo Alto Online News revealing this ambitious goal. Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, spoke with the publication recently offering some insight into Stanley’s fate and the direction of Stanford’s robot vehicle development program.

Thrun, who will speak about Stanley the autonomous Touareg R5 and its historical Grand Challenge run at Stanford’s Hewlett Teaching Center tomorrow night, indicates that the spunky Volkswagen will be put out to pasture, most likely in a tech museum. Since Volkswagen is a corporate partner, the yet unnamed offspring will still be a VW but will probably be a Passat station wagon instead of a 4 wheel drive SUV like its predecessor.

Being a military-sponsored contest, the Grand Challenge’s 132-mile Mojave Desert course was particularly treacherous, but the technology developed at Stanford and by the other competitors will ultimately find its way in to vehicles operating in urban settings according to Thrun. His prediction is that within 5 to 10 years robot cars will drive people to their destinations increasing both commuter productivity and safety on the road.

In order to hasten this goal, Thrun and his team have begun developing a car with the specific objective of being able to drive itself from San Francisco to Los Angeles by the fall of 2007. Unlike Stanley, the new vehicle will have to travel at highway speeds compared to the 25 mph Stanley averaged across the Mojave last summer. Even more importantly, the new vehicle will have an essential safety net: a human co-pilot who will only intervene in emergency situations. “We have no intent to kill anybody,” says Thrun.

Read the full article at Palo Alto Online News: “‘Traffic-ready’ robot car is coming.”

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