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October 25, 2021

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Algorithm wins Indianapolis car race

THE winner was not a driver but an algorithm on Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the top car clocked an average speed of 218 kilometers an hour, ushering autonomous vehicles into a new era.

Setting the record pace over two laps, a team from the Technical University of Munich won the US$1 million prize in the first Indy Autonomous Challenge, an event dedicated to self-driving cars.

Their car beat EuroRacing, another European team who fell to a coding mistake by one of their student engineers despite securing the fastest lap time ever recorded for an autonomous car, at 223 kmh.

EuroRacing’s Dallara IL-15 had been programmed to run five laps instead of the six scheduled for every competitor and therefore slowed down during its final drive around the oval, bringing down the average speed.

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

A third European team also had a shot at victory but GPS trackers for PoliMOVE shut down during the race, which made their car “totally blind,” according to Sergio Matteo Savaresi, professor at the Polytechnic University of Milan and team manager.

Each autonomous car relies on sensors, cameras, radar, but above all GPS, without which no controlled motion is possible, to the point that some have two onboard.

The Dallara IL-15, used by every team, resembles a Formula One car but is smaller and comes with a price tag of US$230,000. However, the technology on board makes each car worth more than US$1 million, according to event organizers.

Among the tech installed in the vehicles are sensors supplied by industry trailblazer Luminar that can map out surfaces from 250 meters away. The TUM team’s average speed of 218 kmh “is not far away from what human drivers do” with the same car, said Alexander Wischnewski, a member of the winning team.

“Nobody knew that these could go so fast in competition,” said Stefano dePonti, Dallara USA’s CEO, who said he had witnessed “a part of history.” Talk is now rife about a multi-car autonomous race at Las Vegas tech show CES in early January.


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