Self-Racing Cars Kick Off First Autonomous Vehicle Track Day

by Danny Shapiro

Last weekend a momentous event in the motorsports and automotive world took place.

We’re not talking about the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500. Or even the chic Formula 1 Grand Prix De Monaco from across the pond.

We’re talking about the first Self Racing Cars track event, at Northern California’s Thunderhill Raceway. Although the temperature was a stifling 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it was the cool technology on display that made this event unique.

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Startup comma.ai uses NVIDIA technology to train its deep neural network and run the DNN that drives its Acura ILX.

Crowded Field

Among the two dozen sensor and platform companies at the event to test their autonomous racing technology were:

  • comma.ai — the startup uses NVIDIA technology to train its deep neural network and run the DNN that drives the car. The company drove its Acura ILX and also had a wheego Whip EV on hand, complete with an NVIDIA DRIVE PX in the trunk.
  • AutonomouStuff — the autonomous technology specialist brought its Lincoln MKZ, the same platform that NVIDIA is using for our New Jersey autonomous car testing.
  • PolySync — the automotive software company drove its Kia Soul, and is planning to run its advanced middleware platform on DRIVE PX.
  • DENSO — the tier-one auto supplier drove its Tesla Model S, complete with lidar sensors integrated into the side mirrors.
  • Audi — the automaker drove its RS 7 “Audi piloted driving” concept car.
  • Renovo Motors — the electric car maker brought its new Coupe.

Learning to Race

Track time: to build a car that can race itself, you need to know how to race.
Track time: a little time behind the wheel helped teams of engineers better understand the challenge of building cars that can navigate a racetrack.

Before the engineers put on their racing helmets and got behind the wheel, coaches showed them how to drive on the track. It’s completely different from street and highway driving. Hard braking is often done going into a turn, transitioning to hard acceleration coming out of the turn. Drivers need to line up their vehicles for the next curve as they exit each turn.

Audi brought its RS 7 “Audi piloted driving” concept car to Thunderhill.
Audi brought its RS 7 “Audi piloted driving” concept car to Thunderhill.

Engineers used their two days on Thunderhill Raceway’s West track to gather driving data and test driving algorithms. This YouTube video shows AutonomouStuff’s car driving itself around the racetrack.

A Spectacular New Sport

In most cases the teams used the opportunity to collect data as their vehicles circled the track, and test their software at a range of speeds. There was no head to head racing.

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Tier-one auto supplier Denso drove its Tesla Model S, complete with lidar sensors integrated into the side mirrors.

However, the event organizer, Joshua Schachter, envisions not just racing cars, but adding unusual challenges like oncoming or cross race traffic. The result, he says, should be a spectacular new sport.

To learn more about Self Racing Cars, visit http://selfracingcars.com.

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Automotive software company PolySync drove its Kia Soul at Thunderhill. It’s planning to run its advanced middleware platform on DRIVE PX.