In 2020, officials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway proved that the thet were able to host an Indianapolis 500 without fans.
In 2021, the goal is to host a race … without drivers.
Energy Systems Network and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have announced a partnership for the Indy Autonomous Challenge, a high-speed, head-to-head driverless car race at IMS on Oct. 23. This week, officials unveiled the Dallara chassis that will be used.
The IAC includes 39 teams from 11 counties and 14 states in the U.S. More than 500 students and teachers and mentors are already working on their project that will culminate with their autonomous cars competing in a 20-lap (50-mile) race at IMS.
At stake is a $1.5 million prize purse, which has been put up by IAC sponsor, Ansys.
“The IAC is going to bring the best minds from around the world to solve a very complex problem, right here at the Racing Capital of the World,” IMS president J. Douglas Boles said. “As the birthplace of motorsports’ innovation, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a fitting setting for this event, and we can’t wait to see the winning entry cross the Yard of Bricks into history.”
While this will hardly be the first showcase for autonomous cars, it will undoubtedly call for an advance in the technology. The driverless cars racing around the 2-mile oval at Indianapolis will be doing so at speed and against other cars. This won’t be a test of driverless taxis or driverless delivery trucks showing that they can stay between the white lines of city streets.
The Dallaras in the IAC will be racing at speeds upward of 200 mph. The first of three test sessions at IMS is scheduled for June 5-6.
That’s the plan, anyway, as keeping the race cars between the walls of IMS will present new challenges as those faced by other autonomous car showcases. Former IndyCar driver Lyn St. James is anxious to see what the driverless cars will do and what the innovative students come up with to meet the challenge and further advance autonomous vehicle technology.
“Racing has always been about testing limits and about technology,” St. James said during a panel discussion on the IAC as part of this week’s virtual Consumer Electronics Show. “I remember when I was a factory driver for Ford Motor Company, it was always about the engineers who were there to test products, to test certain components, and often those components went into production cars. For me, it was always, ‘make this car go faster so that I could win a race.’
“I realized there was really another agenda, and that was to test components and to test different parts of that race car to be able to transfer it to the technology in street cars. The racing industry is always wide open, the people in the industry are always wide open, to find new technology, to find new ways of doing things.
“I think having students integrated into this, now working on their projects, and I think it’s really going to change and open up a lot of the engineers and the experts and the team members and the crew members and they’re going to now really have their eyes opened about what Is really available with you and their ideas and their challenges.”
Paul Mitchell is president and CEO of ESN and co-organizer of the IAC program.
“The Dallara-built IAC race car is the most advanced, fastest autonomous vehicle ever developed,” Mitchell said. “Our IAC sponsors are providing radar, lidar, optical cameras and advanced computers, bringing the value of each vehicle to $1 million.”
“Racing has always been about testing limits and about technology.”
One of the challenges for autonomous racing is solving edge case scenarios, with the most significant being the ability of the cars to avoid unanticipated obstacles at high speeds.
“We’re going to be there watching, even if we’re not directly involved, we’re going to be there working and watching and be very curious about all of this,” St. James said. “Race car drivers have over time, we’ve developed intuitive decision-making in milliseconds. It’s anticipatory reaction. You can’t wait to react. It has to happen almost instinctively at the speeds that we go. I don’t know how the heck they’re going to be able to do that. That’s what I’m anxious to see.
“How can you program a computer in an autonomous vehicle that can have that kind of anticipatory reaction that we have? Looking at all the plans, and you can have all the structures and have all the lines and all the walls, but you still have to have this intuitive feeling about when to make your move and how to make your move to avoid an accident an to make a pass.
“So, I see that this integration is really going to be able, hopefully, able to then create software that can have that can have that kind of millisecond anticipatory reaction. I think it’s exciting to be able to see something like this and there’s no better place to have this than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
Driverless Indy cars are coming to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Will you watch? Let us know you thoughts on driverless vehicles. Looking forward to them? Start a conversation in the comments section below.
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