Monday 5th November 2012


Self-driving Audi TT getting smarter on the race track

A self-driving car is coming close to beating human drivers round a race-track, according to the California university that's developed it.

The car is a standard 265hp Audi TT S dubbed Shelley with of host of extra computing power in its boot. It's the creation of the Centre for Automotive Research at Standard University (CARS, handily), and it has already driven itself up the Pikes Peak course and reached 120mph on track.

The idea is not to create a robot race series, says Professor Chris Gerdes, head of the CARS lab, but to use the info to make cars safer. "If we can figure out how to get Shelley out of trouble on a race track, we can get out of trouble on ice," Gerdes said.

TT takes itself off for some track playtime
TT takes itself off for some track playtime
Shelley, named for Pikes Peak winner and Audi Quattro driving rally hero Michele Mouton, is equipped with a smart GPS that knows where it is to the nearest 2cm. Radar and laser sensors also help position it on the racetrack, with further information coming from the usual array of electronic feedback standard on many cars these days, such as yaw rate detectors and wheel-speed sensors showing tyre grip.

So far drivers have still proved that bit faster, although the gap is closing to within seconds, according to the team. "Human drivers are very, very smooth," Gerdes said. 

He said the car is less good at feeling where its limits lie, while the best drivers know that the quickest way round a corner on the limit might be to use the throttle as well as the steering. Or that going too wide on one corner might better set them up for the next.

The track they've been using is the Thunderhill circuit north of Sacramento but to better understand how humans drive fast they've strapped monitoring systems to a driver at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion race at Laguna Seca. They also harvested data from the car, a 1966 Ford GT40.

"We need to know what the best drivers do that makes them so successful," Gerdes says. "If we can pair that with the vehicle dynamics data, we can better use the car's capabilities.

The idea of autonomous cars might not be your idea of progress, so take comfort in a line from Gerdes himself back in October. Self driving cars, he said, have been "20 years in the future ever since about 1939".


Author: NickGibbs
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