In Indianapolis, self-driving race cars make history.


In Indianapolis, self-driving race cars make history.

On Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the winner was an algorithm, not a human, as the fastest car reached an average speed of 218 km/h (135 mph), bringing autonomous vehicles into a new era.

A team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) won the first Indy Autonomous Challenge, an event dedicated to self-driving cars, by setting the fastest time over two laps.

Their car beat EuroRacing, a European team who lost due to a coding error made by one of their student engineers despite setting the fastest lap time ever for an autonomous automobile at 139 miles per hour (223 kilometers per hour).

The Dallara IL-15 of EuroRacing was set to complete five laps instead of the six required by each contender, causing it to slow down during its final loop around the oval, lowering the average speed.

“I have a bitter taste in my mouth,” said Marko Bertogna, chairman of the EuroRacing team and professor at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy.

A third European team, PoliMOVE, had a chance to win, but its GPS trackers failed during the race, rendering their car “completely blind,” according to Sergio Matteo Savaresi, team manager and professor at the Polytechnic University of Milan.

Sensors, cameras, radar, and, most all, GPS, without which no controlled mobility is possible, are all used by autonomous cars, with some having two aboard.

Every team uses the Dallara IL-15, which looks like a Formula One car but is smaller and costs $230,000. According to the event organizers, the equipment on board makes each automobile worth more than $1 million.

Sensors offered by industry pioneer Luminar that can map out surfaces from 250 meters afar are among the technology deployed in the vehicles.

According to Alexander Wischnewski, a member of the winning team, the TUM team’s average speed of 218 km/h “is not far away from what human drivers do” with the identical automobile.

“I’m pretty proud of what we displayed today,” Wischnewski said, despite the cool, rainy conditions in Indianapolis on Saturday and the lack of sufficient tire warm-up time.

“No one knew these (self-driving cars) could drive so quickly in competition,” Dallara USA CEO Stefano dePonti said, adding that he had witnessed “a part of history.”

“With these conditions, it was impossible,” Bertogna said, adding that he believed the autonomous Dallara could achieve 280 km/h.

The nine participating college student teams had been preparing for an event for two years. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.


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