The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) conducted its autonomous vehicle races, the Grand Challenge and the Urban Challenge, in 2005 and 2007, but Volkswagen is still researching the technology. A combined effort with Volkswagen's Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL), Stanford University's Dynamics Design Lab (SDDL), and Sun Microsystem's resulted in the autonomous Audi TTS. The group working on the car is considering a run up the 12.4-mile Pikes Peak Hill Climb course in 2010 to demonstrate the capabilities of its driverless technology.
This new robot car is based on a 2009 Audi TTS, the sport version of the TT coupe. This car has Quattro all-wheel-drive and is motivated by a turbocharged, direct injection, 2-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 265 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. ERL fitted this car with the sensors, servos, and drive-by-wire equipment necessary for computer control, while SDDL developed the programming so the car can respond appropriately to sensor data. Sun built the computer platform to run the car.
Past autonomous cars from Volkswagen, developed by Stanford, have been a Touareg SUV and a Passat wagon. A video promoting the new Audi TTS shows the technology has progressed so that it can handle drifting and cross-turning the wheels, maneuvers necessary for any speedy run up Pike's Peak.
While this technology could lead to commutes and long freeway trips where you could sit back and let the car do the driving, the point of the current research is developing new safety technologies.