R​acing to advance autonomous driving technology

CES 2021 (the Consumer Electronics Show) is not in Las Vegas this year, due to COVID-19. Instead, it is an online-only show. While that makes covering it quite different from being there in Las Vegas to cover it in person, there are advantages, and there is plenty to cover — all from the comfort of my own home.

A CES press conference revealed the official racecar that will be raced in the Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC), a race on October 23, 2021 for autonomous, high-speed, open wheel racecars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Electric Dallara IL-15 racecar

Why have a race? “There’s a fundamental connection between innovations on the racetrack and real-world improvements on the highway,” said IMS President J. Douglas Boles. “With the launch of the Indy Autonomous Challenge, IMS continues to embrace its historic role as a catalyst for the next generation of vehicle technologies in motorsports competition and wider consumer platforms” (

I​ndianapolis Motor Speedway

Promoting STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), students from 37 universities from 11 countries on four continents around the world have registered to create artificial intelligence (AI) software, program and race the Dallara IL-15 racecars for prize money totaling $1.5 million. “The algorithms will complete all actions normally performed by a driver.” Fourteen U.S. states will be represented. Several of the universities will collaborate with each other. The IAC is co-organized by Energy Systems Network and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Building upon the autonomous technology successes of the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, goals of the Indy Autonomous Challenge are to advance the safety and performance of fully autonomous vehicle technology and driver-assistance systems, to accelerate their commercialization, and to increase public awareness about the technology. Sebastian Thrun, who led the winning DARPA team, is serving as a key advisor to the IAC.

The challenges that the teams will face are enormous, in large part due to the extreme operating environment of the race. Each racecar will have to interact closely with, and correctly respond to, unpredictable actions of the other cars on track. Racing each other at speeds up to 200mph, their reactions and race strategies will need to be split-second to avoid collisions, while driving aggressively to win the race. It should be very exciting to watch the cars racing head-to-head.

Prior to the race the students are participating remotely, via live-stream conferencing, in a series of hackathons and workshops which began in May of 2020.

The simulation platform, provided to all registered teams, is being created by Ansys (a global leader in engineering simulation software). That platform is based upon Ansys’ “VRXPERIENCE Driving Simulator, powered by SCANeR™, that is embedded around the IMS track and in the modified Dallara IL-15 vehicle models.” Ansys SCADE software development suites will “allow the teams to develop and test their autonomous vehicle software in a virtual environment. Ansys will train the students to use the simulation solutions, provide numerous self-help resources, and “implement and execute the simulation race, scheduled for May 2021.”

The electric Dallara IL-15 racecars will be modified with hardware and controls by Clemson University Deep Orange 12 students, to enable automation, determine “the sensor types and locations to provide the vehicle with computer vision at high speeds,” and “determine the appropriate powertrain to provide the sustained power levels required for racing at high speeds and generate the electrical power needed for onboard computing and sensing systems.”

Aptiv, known for its collaboration with Lyft, the rideshare company, on a fleet of autonomous BMWs in Las Vegas (see AutoMatters & More #530 at, “will provide radar technologies for the IAC’s vehicles.”

Track practice days are planned to be held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in June, September and October, 2021, with final race qualification scheduled for Oct. 21-22.

The race distance will be 50 miles — 20 laps around the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 23. The teams of students will be able to monitor the condition of their racecars via telemetry, and to disable them and bring them to a controlled stop if necessary.

The IAC is funded and supported by a consortium of public and private sponsors, including Microsoft, Bridgestone, Aptiv (a global leader in autonomous automotive mobility solutions), Valvoline, Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research, Ansys, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and Dallara.

For more information, visit


Jan Wagner

Leave a Comment