Indianapolis Motor Speedway Will Host Its First Ever Autonomous Race In 2021

Photo: Chris Graythen (Getty)

Autonomous open-wheel racing is coming to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2021 as the result of a two-year competition to design a driverless Indy Lights car. IMS was a hotbed of cutting-edge technical innovation back in the day, so this is weirdly one of those times when “robot vehicles” aligns with the notion of tradition.

It’ll be called the Indy Autonomous Challenge, Racer reports, and it’s designed to be a competition between universities to create a completely self-driving Indy Lights car that will compete on-track for a grand prize of $1 million. Each car will be designed using the Indy Lights Dallara chassis as its base.

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It’s a pretty neat concept that gets weirder when you consider its potential execution as a result of multiple rounds of competition. Yes, multiple rounds of “competition,” not racing, because somehow they’ve managed to include papers and presentations. It’s between students, after all. From the article:

The Challenge consists of five rounds. Teams submit a short white paper during the first round, and in the second round, teams must demonstrate vehicular automation by sharing a short video of an existing vehicle or by participating in Purdue University’s self-driving go-kart competition at IMS.

The Indy Autonomous Challenge’s simulation sponsor ANSYS will supply its industry-leading VRXPERIENCE Driving Simulator powered by SCANeRTM and its SCADE software development suite to teams for their use in developing autonomous vehicle software. ESN and ANSYS will co-host “hackathons” to familiarize teams with the simulator’s full potential and ANSYS will award $150,000 in prizes to top finishers of a simulated race during the third round. The fourth round enables teams to test their actual vehicles at IMS in advance of the head-to-head race around the oval, which will award $1 million, $250,000, and $50,000 to the first, second, and third finishers, respectively.

Basically, universities will be required to pass multiple tests showcasing different aspects of the R&D process, before even being allowed to take their vehicles on track. If you’ve ever competed in Formula SAE, it sounds similar, if a little more complicated given that the tech being used in this case is still pretty new.

As of now, only five universities have currently signed up: Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, University of Florida, University of Illinois, and the University of Virginia. But any interested university around the world can join. Registration is open until February 28, 2020.

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About the author

Elizabeth Blackstock

Staff writer. Motorsport fanatic. Proud owner of a 2013 Mazda 2.