A self-driving car sees the best racing line better than a human driver
How will robots change the world? A question frequently asked and still unanswered. After all, we don’t have a crystal ball. What we do know is that digitization and automation has changed the world tremendously over the past decades. TO Eindhoven University of Technology (TU / e) in the Netherlands, the potential of intelligent machines in industry and everyday life is explored every day. Scientists immerse themselves in technology, and student teams get to work on concrete solutions to social problems. This series will tell you about the latest robots, their journey and their future. Today, the third article in this series is about autonomous racing cars.
The Transformer, this is the name of the Eindhoven University Course (URE) the last car of the student team. As the name suggests, the car can also change shape. The electric racing car of the Eindhoven University Course (URE) is able to drive with or without a driver. “The front and rear side fenders of the car can be replaced with a number of sensors and an additional computer that allows the car to drive autonomously,” explains Dennis gubbels, URE team leader. The student team participates internationally Student Formula Contest with their racing car. There are three different classes: For internal combustion engines, electric drives and autonomous driving. The Eindhoven team takes part in the competitions of electric and autonomous racing cars.
Brain versus system
Autonomous racing takes place slightly differently from what auto racing is used to. “Self-driving cars don’t all run on the track at the same time. They go around the track one by one. In the end, the lap times are compared and a winner comes out, ”says Gubbels. The pupils try to drive the car on the track in the most optimal way possible. Like a driver, the car searches for the ideal line to complete a lap as quickly as possible.
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“Lidar sensors and front cameras work in tandem to determine the distance to pylons along the road. This allows the car to map the surroundings and calculate the optimal driving route, ”explains the team leader.
In order to be able to perform these calculations, the car has an additional computer at the rear of the car. “This is where all the data from the sensors and cameras is received. The computer processes this data and then sends signals to adjust speed and direction. This is what normally happens in a driver’s brain, ”he adds. “The goal is to make this system better than a regular racing driver. The team has integrated a number of security systems to keep them safe. “We have an emergency braking system. This ensures that the car brakes automatically in the event of, for example, an error or a power failure, ”continues Gubbels. “Plus, we can always brake from a distance if we see that the car can’t handle it. “
The coming months will be devoted to student testing. “Due to the corona crisis, we have been suspended for a while this past year at university. This meant that the car was not yet completely finished, ”says Gubbels. The team normally builds a new car every school year. Things will be different this year. “We are now continuing with last year’s car. This also has its advantages. Now we can thoroughly test and optimize it, both mechanically and in terms of software.
The team is also preparing for next year. “The competition will change. Next year, there will be a class where the car must be able to drive with one driver at one time and independently the next, ”he notes. “Next, we need to integrate the autonomous systems into the car even more effectively. For now, students still need to tune their cars slightly to switch to autonomous driving. “If everything is really part of one car, it affects almost every other aspect of the car. With additional sensors and computers, we have to think carefully about how all of this will fit perfectly into the interior of the car. We also need to explore the influence of all sensors on aerodynamics, ”explains Gubbels.
From the race track to the open road
Autonomous driving is increasingly popular in the racing world. “I expect that in a few years, in addition to Formula 1 and Formula E, there will also be major competition for autonomous racing,” said Gubbels. “Perhaps initially on a smaller scale or even numerically – based on simulations – and later with real cars.” The technological development that takes place in the racing world can also be useful outside the circuits. “Our car’s sensors detect pylons, but they can also detect people, cyclists, crosswalks or road signs. In both scenarios, a computer must then be able to calculate an optimal route without touching anything else.
Although there are other things on public roads that must be taken into account, according to the student. “A lot of people walk and cycle near public roads. Of course, that’s not the case on the racetrack, ”adds Gubbels. “The car needs to be able to see which way someone is walking, cycling or driving. Then he has to calculate how long it takes before someone approaches the car. Based on this, the car can then assess whether it can continue driving or whether it should stop.
“Systems will therefore be designed for autonomous passenger cars so that they can communicate with each other,” he continues. “It will increase the levels of safety because the cars will then know what the other cars are going to do. In a race you don’t want your opponent to know what you are about to do, this is how you can defend your position or make a plan to overtake another car.
Gubbels believes self-driving cars are safer than human drivers. “A person can only look ahead, left or right, while a computer system can do it all at the same time,” he says. In addition, people sometimes act with emotion, even in traffic. A system does not do this and therefore always makes informed decisions.