With Stanford University, and organizational and monetary help from Silicon Valley's venture-capital firm Mohr, Davidow Ventures, the VW...

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With Stanford University, and organizational and monetary help from Silicon Valley’s venture-capital firm Mohr, Davidow Ventures, the VW lab is pursuing an entry in the DARPA Grand Challenge.

The federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency sponsors the event with a $2 million prize for a driverless vehicle that can travel up to 175 miles in the desert in 10 hours.

In June, Stanford’s Racing Team, Volkswagen’s partner, was named as one of 40 that will compete in Southern California in September. The 20 qualifying teams will compete in the Grand Challenge in October.

“We would really like to win this race,” said Carlo Rummel, executive director of VW’s Electronics Research Lab.

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Their vehicle, a European-specification VW Touareg T5 sport-utility called Stanley, is equipped with devices that operate its steering, acceleration and braking, as well as all manner of radar and navigation equipment to stay on path and avoid obstacles.

Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor and artificial-intelligence expert heading the effort, sees autonomous driving as “the beginning of a scientific revolution.”

The goal is to reduce the more than 40,000 American deaths from car crashes each year. Human error is responsible for a large percentage of those deaths. Creating vehicles that can stay in lanes, avoid obstacles and slow down when they need to could save thousands of lives.

“That would be a fantastic success for us,” Thrun said.

— Matt Nauman