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Indy Autonomous Challenge: Students race with self-driving cars for $1.5 million in prize money

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University students will gather at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) this week to showcase their talents in a racing event unlike any other. For the first time in the history of the IMS, home of the Indianapolis 500 NASCAR race, the cars that will compete for the $1.5-million prize will be missing a key component – ​​there will be no drivers. These driverless cars will run wheel-to-wheel at speeds of up to 180 mph (290 kph). Organized by IMS and the non-profit firm Energy Systems Network, the Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC), the first of its kind, is scheduled for October 23.

All the architectures powering these automated cars in the race will be based on open source. Nine teams of students from 21 universities will represent nine countries in the event. What makes the race more interesting is that teams can only use one car. Unlike most other racing events, they may not have a backup car in case an accident occurs.

According to the organisers, who want to raise public awareness of the transformative impact automation can have on society, the race seeks to significantly advance the safety and speed of autonomous vehicles. To build their case, they state that more than 40,000 annual motor vehicle deaths (94 percent) in the US are due to “human factors.” Therefore, advances in vehicle automation could save thousands of lives. In addition, according to the Department of Energy, automation can reduce the energy consumption of total vehicles by up to 60 percent.

The winning team will use the prize money on research initiatives to accelerate the commercialization of fully autonomous vehicles and the deployment of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). The competition will provide a platform for students to excel in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

The Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment provided a grant to Energy Systems Network to help develop the IAC and fund the $1.5 million prize purse. The competition is significant in the sense that many politicians, celebrities and industry leaders will participate in it. In addition, hundreds of high school students and many other members of the public will also be in attendance.


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