The US Grand Challenge again takes place in the Mojave desert later this year, and the Volkswagen Touareg SUV competing in the driverless event recently completed its first demonstration run in Germany.

The US Grand Challenge again takes place in the Mojave desert later this year, and the Volkswagen Touareg SUV competing in the driverless event recently completed its first demonstration run in Germany.

The Grand Challenge is operated by the US government’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and the next 280-km event will take place in the Mojave desert from October 8.

Using radar, GPS and lasers linked to seven Pentium motherboards, and electronically-controlled steering, throttle and braking systems, the Touareg is able to identify obstacles on the track and steer clear of them.

The vehicle, dubbed “Stanley” by VW engineers is regarded as a mobile laboratory for its next-generation safety systems beyond the driver aids, reported.

"The systems need to be made as good as aware drivers themselves", said VW head of research Matthias Rabe. "In the next step, the systems will have to be made even better than the driver - by looking around the next corner and assessing the situation correctly."

The prize money of $2m will go to the vehicle running the longest across the course without an accident or breakdown, and without the intervention of an operator. One hundred and six teams entered last year’s inaugural event, of which only 15 teams, with vehicles ranging from motorcycles to trucks, made it to the starting line.

Three hours before the race, the teams were given a CD with the latitude and longitude of about 2 000 points that could be located using the vehicles’ on board GPS systems across a terrain of sand, tar, elevation changes and even some drops.

Last year, none of the robots made it beyond the 15 km mark, but there is more to this race than simple fun and games the teams maintained.

"This is the first long-distance race in the history of the automobile in which the vehicles themselves make all of the decisions needed to progress,” said Professor Sebastien Thrun, head of the Stanford University team that co-developed Stanley. “In other words, the car not only needs a strong body, but also a particularly intelligent mind."