Stanford University's robocar, "Junior," was first across the finish line Saturday but wound up in second place on technical points behind "Boss" from rival Carnegie Mellon University in a widely watched "urban challenge" sponsored by the Pentagon.
Judges awarded the $2 million first prize to the Boss team because it performed best with fewest infractions on specific tasks along the 60-mile route at a deserted Air Force base near Victorville in San Bernardino County.
Junior's team will bring home $1 million. A third-place prize of $500,000 went to a car from Virginia Tech.
Another Palo Alto-area entry, AnnieWAY, went inactive along the course and was pulled from the competition.
Just 11 vehicles started the course Saturday, cheered on by hundreds of scientists, family members and onlookers, many watching via laptop computers. Six vehicles completed the course.
The contest -- unlike a 2005 desert-driving competition that was won by Stanford -- tested the vehicles in urban conditions that included urban-type traffic with about 50 cars with drivers and other obstacles. The cars had to make simulated delivery stops along the way, and even had to figure out who had the right-of-way at a four-way stop-sign intersection.
One historic-first fender-bender between robotic vehicles was reported, but both vehicles were able to continue on the course.
The race is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Reseach Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop robotic military vehicles of the future.
Final results were not announced until Sunday because of the highly complex nature of the course and tasks involved.
The finish-line exhilaration of cheering Stanford supporters was dampened by the announced results, but team spokesman David Orenstein took the news philosophically.
"What we saw was a milestone for artificial intelligence, where cars were put into traffic and handled it," he told a reporter.
"Junior" is a 2006 Volkswagen Passat named in honor of Leland Stanford, Jr., the son of Leland and Jane Stanford whose early death prompted the creation of Stanford University.
Race officials had expected the field to be about 20 vehicles out of 35 that competed in qualifying runs between Oct. 26 and 31. But many cars were eliminated due to technical and safety-related issues.
"They crashed into things," Orenstein told the Weekly, noting that Junior drove safely even though it may have missed some waypoints or paused along the route.
DARPA held its first desert competition in 2004, but no vehicles were able to finish. Stanford won a second desert challenge over Carnegie Mellon's car and other challengers in 2005.