Robots on the racetrack: A team of Pitt students will compete in the first Indy Autonomous Challenge - Technical.ly Pittsburgh

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Robots on the racetrack: A team of Pitt students will compete in the first Indy Autonomous Challenge

Autonomous vehicles will get their own Indy 500 at this inaugural event next weekend.

Indianapolis Autonomous Challenge teams stand with their racecars.

(Courtesy photo)

Next week, a University of Pittsburgh team will participate in the first-ever autonomous race car competition.

The Indy Autonomous Challenge will take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — home of the famed Indianapolis 500 — on Oct. 23. The university will join forces with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Waterloo in Canada as team MIT-PITT-RW and vie for $1 million in prize money and bragging rights as the winners of the race.

In total, the nine teams competing represent 21 universities across nine different countries, including Italy, Colombia and South Korea. Beyond convening academics, the challenge will also bring together public and private partners in an effort to encourage further innovation and collaboration in the growing autonomous vehicle sector.

The challenge’s home page lists DARPA’s previous autonomous vehicle challenges for universities as inspiration for this broader competition. (Just last month, another Pittsburgh institution, Carnegie Mellon University, went underground in the DARPA SubT Challenge finals.)

Importantly, the Indy Autonomous Challenge will garner public attention as several local companies are gearing up for first commercial launches. Gaining wider acceptance will be key for this disruptive technology, and by creating a network of partnerships across so many different companies, organizations and other parties with ties to the industry, the Challenge will take a step in normalizing the picture of a car without a driver.

Beyond infusing this new tech into an American tradition, using autonomous vehicles for this kind of high-speed race will allow engineers to account for extreme use cases that will be helpful in further developing the full safety profile of the technology. The hope is that by providing a chance for new design decisions, industry partners will collaborate in looking for ways to reduce the cost and development time of autonomous vehicles.

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This will be the final competition of a years-long event for team MIT-PITT-RW, and the group has already published white papers on their model. Technical.ly will be keeping a close eye on race results next Saturday, which you can find out more about on the challenge’s website.


Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments. -30-
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