Stanford Car.jpgActually yes. The Stanford University team’s robotic vehicle was in second place for much of the 132-mile course across the Nevada desert, but in a thriller it passed the Carnegie Mellon leader, and snagged the $2 million prize. Congrats!

(Photo: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes )

The race was funded by the Pentagon’s DARPA, as a way to develop technologies for 21st-century automated warfare. There was no driver. The car had to go up and down hills, pass through obstacles, all with no help. In addition to Stanford, Silicon Valley’s chip powerhouse Intel, and venture capital firm Mohr Davidow Ventures were supporters of Stanley, the winning car.

Here’s the NYT piece, which mentions the various Silicon Valley celebrities who were on hand for the event, including Google co-founder Larry Page, and Apple co-founder Stephen Wozniak — who apparently raced around the pit area on a Segway scooter.

The Stanford scientists who led the 18-month effort to build Stanley said they saw their victory as a significant leap forward in the field of artificial intelligence, a discipline that has long suffered from big promises that did not pan out.

“This is for people who say, ‘Cars can’t drive themselves,’ ” said Sebastian Thrun, the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-leader of the Stanford team. “These are the same people who said the Wright brothers wouldn’t fly.”

More info here at Darpa’s site.