For a robotic car, there can hardly be a more perilous challenge than the Pikes Peak run, as even city traffic and concrete barriers don't pose the same risk as several-thousand-foot falls and sheer rock walls, but that's exactly where Stanford and Audi plan to take theirs. Despite the fact that the Audi TTS housing the system--dubbed Shelley after famed female rally legend Michele Mouton--will be driverless, the team must still be nervous about the attempt.
Shelley won't be taking it easy, you see--the plan is to hit the slopes hard, racing to the 14,000-foot-plus summit in the shortest time possible. This is a feat that only the most elite human race car drivers can accomplish with any degree of safety, so it's sure to be a serious challenge for a purely computer-controlled system
Nevertheless, the computer appears to have a fair grip on the dynamics of sliding around in the dirt as the preview video below shows. The Pikes Peak challenge won't actually happen until 2010, but between now and then Stanford will be working hard to get the robot-driven Audi TTS up to speed.
The Shelley project is part of the Volkswagen Group Automotive Innovation Laboratory (VAIL) program, and its purpose is to study how advancements in communications, driver assistance and other technologies can help actual human drivers react to traffic and safety challenges on the road, while also exploring an increased role for autonomous handling of routine driving conditions like bumper-to-bumper congestion.
In addition to Stanford and the VAIL project, Audi is also working with Sun Microsystems to provide the necessary computing power to pull off this huge communication and evaluation project. Despite the addition off all the extra gear, computers, and sensors, the car only weighs about 3,240 pounds in autonomous trim.
The assault on Pikes Peak is currently scheduled for Q4 2010.