May 16, 2022

The Ken Q san

Future technology in the world

Professor Says Technology for Driverless F1 Is Closer Than You Think

PATRICK T. FALLONGetty Images The technical advances between Round 1 of the Indy Autonomous Challenge...

PATRICK T. FALLONGetty Images

  • The technical advances between Round 1 of the Indy Autonomous Challenge at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October and this past week’s second round at Las Vegas was striking.
  • Prof. Markus Lienkamp of the Technical University of Munich says that while the human driver at the Formula 1 level still has the upper hand on artificial intelligence, the gap is closing.
  • There are predictions that technology could support an autonomous Formula 1 car on track as soon as 2025.

    Prof. Markus Lienkamp of the Technical University of Munich today is celebrating another winning weekend for an autonomous race car championed by TUM in the Indy Autonomous Challenge at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

    The technical advances between Round 1 of the Indy Autonomous Challenge at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October and this past week’s second round was striking. The competition at Indianapolis, originally promoted as an event that promised wheel-to-wheel racing, instead proved to be an event where cars hit the track one at at time in time trials format of competition.

    Las Vegas, on the other hand, featured true wheel-to-wheel racing—even if it was a modest two cars on the track at at time.

    TUM won in Indy and finished second at Las Vegas.

    So, where is this all going? Lienkamp predicted that the pace of development of the autonomous race car technology could result in, gulp, an autonomous Formula 1 car on track as soon as 2025.

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    To take the discussion one step further, could F1 cars one day race without drivers in the cockpit? Well, there is something to be said of racing where crashes would not injure or even kill drivers.

    The autonomous race cars in the Indy Autonomous Challenge are modified Indy Lights race cars built by Dallara and powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged 388 bhp Honda (K20C) engine. Each cockpit inlcudes three radars, six cameras, computers and sensors. The weight the electronics closely matches the weight of a human driver. So changes to the suspension configuration was minimal.

    Lienkamp tackled the possibility of driverless F1, among other autonomous vehicle topics, in a Q&A released to the media by TUM this morning.

    “That’s both a technical and emotional discussion which affects the spectators more than anything else,” said Lienkamp said when asked about the possibility of driverless F1. “Fans always like to bond with particular driver personalities and identify with them in competition. When I see the constantly growing enthusiasm for esports, I think at some point we’ll see both.

    “In technical terms of course we always have to ask when it will be realistic to actually replace the driver. After our experience in Indianapolis, we believe this could be possible by 2025. We can even imagine sending one of our autonomous cars to a real Formula 1 race to compete against human professionals.”

    Lienkamp added that while the human driver at the Formula 1 level still has the upper hand on artificial intelligence, the gap is closing.

    halo indy autonomous challenge

    The Halo pace car for the Indy Autonomous Challenge was piloted remotely at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

    John Rettie


    “In its present form, our software has already reached the level of an amateur driver,” Lienkamp said. “When we talk about professional-class races, experience shows we’re about half a second behind. So it will probably take a couple more years before our autonomous vehicles are able to beat racing pros. You can compare it to a chess game against the computer: In the beginning the AI was only able to beat hobby players. It took quite a while before it was possible to beat the chess world champion. But it’s definitely possible.”

    As far-fetched as a true autonomous Formula 1 seems, the professor said that it some ways the technology for the race track is further advanced than that of autonomous street cars.

    “The race track doesn’t have traffic laws or points of reference like marked lanes, traffic lights or traffic signs,” Lienkamp said. “Ultimately we’re dealing with ‘unpredictable’ objects, in our case the other race cars. We have to detect them and make predictions about where they’ll move, and that all at speeds of over 250 km/h.

    “We’re able to do this because our software doesn’t concentrate on strictly complying with traffic regulations, as is the case with other vendors. Instead, our software calculates the probable locations of the other objects which it then uses to calculate the optimum solution for our own movements.”

    indy autonomous challenge

    No driver, no problem for the cars of the Indy Autonomous Challenge.

    John Rettie

    So, how does that work?

    “Our approach uses conventional sensor technologies with lasers, cameras and radar,” he said. “The software knows the race course and detects the other vehicles. That means it can predict the most probable trajectory, i.e. what location on the course the other vehicle will move to at what point in time, and can then plan its own movements accordingly. Here the computing speed of the software plays an important role. That’s decisive when it comes to safely executing aggressive maneuvers and reacting spontaneously to critical situations.”

    The speed at which the software is advancing comes in part from the fact that teams from all over the world are involved.

    “The fact that we made the software generally available as open source code and thus let other teams work on it was enormously helpful as well,” he said. “That speeds up the development process so that soon the number of people around the world who will be able to work on our code will surpass the development capacities of all the automobile manufacturers put together.

    “Ultimately, though, the software and the car are only as good as the teams behind them. I have an extraordinarily good team whose members worked very hard and well beyond the call of their normal everyday duties to make this success happen. 15 doctoral candidates moved this entire project ahead over the course of four years, and four team leaders made sure the teams succeeded in the individual phases.”

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