Volkwagen, Stanford: the future of autonomous vehicles

…are working together to make Driverless Cars a reality in a cooperation that includes the new VAIL facility on the Stanford campus (Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Laboratory), the opening is pictured above, and the VERL (Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory in Palo Alto).

Volkwagen is very serious about driverless vehicle technology. The TT-S in the photo above is being prepared to enter the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb in August (yes, I said driverless!). Here is a fun VW video made to publicize the venture with Stanford.

Volkswagen and Stanford University go way back, having collaborated on two cool autonomous cars for DARPA, and now they’ve gone in together on a laboratory where researchers and students will develop technology they say will lead to safer, greener cars.

The German automaker, through Volkswagen Group of America, is investing $5.75 million in the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Laboratory to spur the creation of new automotive tech. Along with VW’s Electronics Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, VAIL gives VW the largest Silicon Valley research presence of any automaker.

“This collaboration can draw on a long-standing relationship between the Volkswagen Group and Stanford, which continues to increase the exchange between industrial and academic talent,” Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen, chairman and CEO of Bentley Motors, said in a statement. (VW owns Bentley.) “The goals are to accelerate automotive-related research on campus, increase opportunities for collaboration between the VW Group and Stanford and build a global community of academic and industrial partners committed to the future of automotive research.”

VW has been working with Stanford since at least 2005, when the two collaborated on Stanley, an autonomous Touareg that won the DARPA Grand Challenge that year. Stanley is now on display at the Smithsonian. It was followed in 2007 by Junior, a Passat that was runner up in the DARPA Urban Challenge. That’s Junior in the main pic, being driven sans hands.

Volkswagen, through Audi, also has developed an autonomous TT-S, pictured below, that will attempt to conquer Pike’s Peak sometime next year. That’s an audacious goal, given the 12.42-mile course to the 14,110-foot summit features 156 turns and is among the greatest challenges in motorsports.

Burkhard Huhnke, Director of Research for Volkwagen America was the second speaker in the Cato event Driverless Cars: The Next Transportation Revolution. Huhnke described the Stanford venture, inviting us to visit the center, see the self-parking cars, etc.

And for some adrenalin, try this professional video of one of the top Ford teams climbing the peak in an 800 horsepower Ford Fiesta Rallycross:

In order to reach the summit, drivers must negotiate 12.42 miles of winding mountain road, there is imminent danger awaiting just around each one of the course’s 156 turns and while rising the 4,721 feet to the peak, drivers will have to adapt to everything from paved highways surrounded by pines to loose gravel surrounded by nothing more than wide open blue Colorado skies.


The vehicles will be heavily modified rally cars based on the Fiesta hatchback, and will be powered by 2.0 Liter Duratec Ford four cylinder engines, capable of putting out over 800 HP each. Ford will bring Swedish Rally Champion Andreas Eriksson and World Rally legend Marcus Grönholm to try and conquer the mountain.

This is comparatively tame back at VAIL on the Stanford campus: venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson posted this short video of VW Junior 2 self-parking at Stanford.