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4 Lessons Learned from the Indy Autonomous Challenge

Melissa Newman Blog

On October 23, nine teams from around the world met at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC). The goal? To program a Dallara AV-21 with autonomous technology, and see which team’s driverless vehicle could average the fastest speed in two laps. 

Then on January 7th, five teams from the Indy Autonomous Challenge met again at CES in Las Vegas, where they made history in the first-ever head-to-head autonomous race car competition.

Andrew Barnett, New Eagle Application Engineer, worked with Clemson University to program the vehicle that raced in both competitions. He got “in the trenches” experience with New Eagle’s Raptor-Dev software (used on the GCM196 in each Dallara AV-21) while collaborating with the university’s educational vehicle prototype program, Deep Orange. He was also there when the IAC race took place. 

Drew learned a lot working with Deep Orange and watching the challenge play out. But the world at large also learned something from these events. Here are a few things we all came away with from this ground-breaking challenge. 

Rapid prototyping = rapid innovation

The team from Germany’s Technische Universitat Munchen spent 2 years designing the winning entry to take home the $1 million prize. But the next winner will likely take much less time.

Having the tools to quickly prototype new iterations is going to result in the fastest progress. Drew credits Deep Orange’s fast prototyping to their use of Raptor-Dev software, which gave them the ability to write the control software for the vehicle without having to debug thousands of lines of code.

It’s not a speed competition among machines…

… it’s a STEM competition among humans. 

Yes, it was technically a race. And yes, speed was technically the winning criteria. But this event was more about innovation than speed. And while the machines themselves are exciting to look at, the real action was in the labs and classrooms. 

Competitions like this aren’t so much about the glory of getting your machine past the line the fastest. It’s about the learning that happens during development, and the discoveries the collective effort brings to an entire industry. And while it’s fun to compare speeds and times, this race isn’t toward a finish line  — it’s toward the next “ah ha!” moment.

Motorsports are excellent proving grounds for new technology

The Indianapolis motor speedway was built in 1909 to serve as a testing site for the automobile industry. And thankfully, that tradition hasn’t changed. 

This challenge tested the limits of sensor technology and computing systems. Despite the fact that some teams didn’t get out of the gate, the overall results were very promising. 

Thanks to events like these, advancements in technology get pushed to their limits and get more public attention. Events like motorsports  — with their adrenaline-inducing hype and large fan base  — are great avenues for showing the public that automated vehicle technology is making huge strides.

Despite public hesitancy, there’s a bright future for autonomous vehicles

Public opinion is still skeptical of autonomous vehicles. And while it’s true that there are still a lot of advancements that need to be made before autonomous vehicles are on every block, the pace of progress is fast. 

So what’s next? IAC teams are already turning their focus to the commercial vehicle sector! At CES, IAC winner, TUM Autonomous Motorsport, launched Driveblocks, an Autonomy Platform company for driverless vehicle applications.