Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab weekend launch event
The Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL) has focused on creating cutting edge innovations for the Volkswagen Group since its inception in 1998. In the past few years, however, the ERL has seen remarkable growth both in scope and impact of its activities. One very important emerging branch of the ERL focuses on collaborations with various universities. On October 24, 2009 the ERL, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. (VWGoA), and Volkswagen AG took a major step in showing the world its commitment to supporting university collaborations in the automotive space by celebrating the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Laboratory (VAIL) at Stanford University's School of Engineering.
The ERL already has a storied history of collaboration with Stanford University. The 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge winner, Stanley, is an autonomously driving Volkswagen Touareg modified by the ERL and Stanford to endure the rigors of driverless operation in a desert environment. Two years later, the ERL and Stanford came together again to produce Junior, a Volkswagen Passat wagon who would go on to be the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge runner up. The experience and knowledge gained from both autonomous projects has proved to be invaluable for understanding vehicle dynamics, control systems, and sensor optimization. Stanley is currently on display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., while Junior is still undergoing development and can often be seen driving around the Palo Alto area - with or without a driver.
The founding of the VAIL is a natural progression of the past, present, and future work between the Volkswagen Group and Stanford University. The ERL has pledged $2 million to the physical construction of VAIL, which will house the multi-disciplinary automotive research conducted at Stanford. In addition, $750,000 a year for five years are earmarked for future research and teaching activities. The ERL's investment in the future of university based automotive research is clearly a high priority.
The kickoff event on October 24, 2009 was a who's who of high ranking Volkswagen Group officers. Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen, chairman and chief executive of Bentley Motors, led a group of over 30 Volkswagen and Audi visitors from VWGoA's headquarters in Herndon, Virginia, as well as members from Volkswagen AG in Germany. After an intensive top secret project exposition at the ERL, the entire entourage joined over 500 invitees at Stanford's campus to commemorate the VAIL building and surrounding projects. The crowd was presented speeches by Dr. Paefgen representing Volkswagen AG, Toscan Bennett representing VWGoA, and Dean Jim Plummer representing Stanford School of Engineering. Then, two autonomous driving demonstrations awed the audience - first with navigation of roads with traffic and passenger detection, and second with an automatic parking demo that took over finding the first available spot after getting out of the car. The climax of the celebration was the unveiling of the next generation of the ERL and Stanford's collaboration in autonomously driven vehicles, an Audi TTS model meant to explore the limits of grip and speed without a driver. As the dedication ceremony progressed into its social mixer mode, media, guests, and students had a chance to view other ERL-Stanford collaborative projects as well as plans for the VAIL building under construction. After the event, the Volkswagen VIP's were swiftly escorted to watch the Stanford Cardinal defeat the Arizona State Sun Devils in Stanford's homecoming football game, and the night came to a close as a definitive success.