Most of the time, it’s human mistakes that cause auto accidents?take away the human driver and car crashes will be a thing of the past. This seems obvious, so why did the Pentagon sponsor a race to find the best self-propelled car?

The Independent report that the military sponsored an actually NASCAR-style race, in which driverless cars raced around a 132 mile race course in the Mojave desert, competing for a huge monetary prize. The competing scientists created cars that could navigate through tunnels, roar over lake beds and up the sides of mountains, unbothered by rocks in the road (just like 4 wheel drive cars do in TV ads, but can’t do in real life).

The military eventually wants to create self-propelled tanks that would avoid the kind of carnage we’re seeing in Iraq, when suicide bombers drive into US tanks. They would also be safe to drive in areas where land mines are buried. By holding a race, instead of contracting the research themselves, they save lots of money. The winner? A humble Volkswagen Touareg that had been souped-up by engineers from Stanford University. Turning basic Japanese cars like Hondas Civics into street rods is a common past time for brainy teens in California, since they’ve discovered that all cars of a certain vintage have the same computer inside: You just need to tinker with it to give the car more power. So it isn’t surprising that these guys won.

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