May 23, 2019

Where'd The Driver Go? Students Build, Race Fully Autonomous Karts At IMS

Original story from   IPBS-RJC

Article origination IPBS-RJC
A Purdue University team's autonomous kart makes its way around a track in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. - Samantha Horton/IPB News

A Purdue University team's autonomous kart makes its way around a track in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Samantha Horton/IPB News

For the first time, self-driving karts got a chance to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of the lead up to the Indianapolis 500.

As IndyCar drivers prepare for the Indy 500, another race took to an infield track. The EV Grand Prix brings high school and college students from around the world to Indianapolis to race electric powered karts.

Marketing director E.J. Williams helps coordinate the race. He says the event began from a U.S. Department of Energy grant to help develop electric vehicle technology and educate students. Now, the goal is to branch out and explore autonomous innovations.

“Ten years ago right, the hot word was electric vehicle and you know we were doing the exciting thing in electric vehicles,” says Williams. “Ten years later it’s a little more common, but now we like to get back into the hot seat and attempt autonomous, that being the developing technology in transportation.”

Two teams made the attempt to have a fully autonomous kart race around the track.

“That being sensors and computer software replacing the actual driver, says Williams. “You used to be engineering a powertrain, now you’re engineering a powertrain and an actual driver. So it’s pretty interesting.”

Both teams struggled to complete a full lap without crashing. A Purdue University team made the attempt taking off and going about 30 feet before crashing into a barrier.

Kai Strubel is a member of the Purdue University Motorsports team. While the kart didn’t complete a lap around the track, Strubel sees it as a starting point for next year’s team.

He says the technology developed in motorsports often helps move the auto industry forward.

“A lot of new technology starts in the automotive racing area where you’re trying to optimize for you know highest performance and then trickles down into the you know consumer industry,” says Strubel. "So it’s just an exciting place to kind of see the where the limits are of the newest technology.”

Williams says he expects to see more fully autonomous kart racing next year as the interest continues to grow.

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