Indy Autonomous Challenge Begins New Era of Innovation at IMS

Photo from IMS website

The Indy Autonomous Challenge, set for October 23 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ushers i n a the next wave of automotive innovation. IMS used to be a proving ground for safety and other aspects of passenger vehicles. Modern racing has pushed that mostly to the side. This event, featuring autonomous vehicles, seeks to return the Speedway to its role as a developer of advanced automotive progress.

The release from IMS:

January 11, 2021 | By Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Energy Systems Network (ESN) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), organizers of the Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC), today unveiled the official race car that will be autonomously driven by scores of university teams in the world’s first high-speed, head-to-head autonomous race at the Racing Capital of the World on Oct. 23, 2021.

The primary goal of the IAC is to advance technologies that can speed the commercialization of fully autonomous vehicles and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), leading to increased safety and performance. In addition, the IAC is a challenging competition to excite the best and brightest university students from around the world to engage in hands-on engineering firsts.

“The Dallara-built IAC race car is the most advanced, fastest autonomous vehicle ever developed,” stated Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of ESN, and co-organizer of the IAC. “Our IAC sponsors are providing radar, lidar, optical cameras and advanced computers, bringing the value of each vehicle to $1 million.”

The IAC is scheduled for Oct. 23, 2021, at the IMS, with a qualifying simulation race during the Indy 500 week in May. The total IAC prize purse is $1.5 million: $1 million awarded to the winning team of the October IAC race, and an additional $500,000 for winners of the hackathons and simulation races, awarded by IAC sponsor, Ansys.

More than 500 undergraduate and graduate students, PhDs and mentors who excel in artificial intelligence software have responded to the challenge, representing 39 universities in 11 countries on four continents and 14 U.S. states.

Inspiration for the IAC was the DARPA Grand Challenge, as explained by 2005 winner, Sebastian Thrun: “The DARPA Grand Challenge proved that robots can drive themselves in very confined environments, but that they don’t have the agility and skill of a really well-trained human racecar driver to act in extreme situations. IMS is the best place in the world to challenge the robotics community to test self-driving cars. By going into a racing context, we will stretch self-driving cars to the absolute limit.”

The Modified Dallara IL-15 Autonomous Race Car

Since 2002, Dallara has been the sole race car supplier of the Indy Lights series, and now the modified Dallara IL-15 is the official IAC racecar.

“Dallara is the best race car engineering company in the world, yet designing the chassis for autonomous racing was really challenging,” explained Stefano dePonti, CEO and general manager of Dallara USA. “Dallara loves innovation and technological challenges, and we share the IAC’s passion for education and motorsports.”

The modified Dallara is retrofitted with hardware and controls to enable automation to enhance safety, control and performance. Components include rugged-edge on-board computing, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, perception systems, high-end graphics processing units (GPUs), drive-by-wire, and artificial intelligence acceleration and powerful central processing units to run IAC teams’ software and algorithms in the racecar.

One of the challenges for autonomous racing is solving edge case scenarios – challenges that occur only at extreme operating parameters, such as avoiding unanticipated obstacles at high speeds.

“We know how the world’s best race car drivers react in the Dallara, in high-speed scenarios, but now we have to anticipate the actions of a robot,” added dePonti.

Innovation at IMS

IMS has been a catalyst and proving ground for motorsport and transportation innovation since its inception in 1909. IMS hosts the crown jewel of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, the Indianapolis 500 — annually the world’s largest single-day sporting event. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is North America’s premier open-wheel racing series.

“The IAC is going to bring the best minds from around the world to solve a very complex problem, right here at the Racing Capital of the World,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “As the birthplace of motorsports’ innovation, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a fitting setting for this event, and we can’t wait to see the winning entry cross the Yard of Bricks into history.”

IAC Sponsors and Contributors

Indiana Economic Development Corporation, ADLINK, Ansys, Aptiv, AutonomouStuff, Bridgestone, Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), Dallara, Microsoft, New Eagle, PWR, RTI, Schaeffler and Valvoline. See IndyAChallenge.com for more information about these amazing companies realizing autonomous mobility.

About the Indy Autonomous Challenge

The Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC), organized by Energy Systems Network and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is a $1.5 million prize competition among universities to program modified Dallara IL-15 race cars and compete in the world’s first autonomous head-to-head race around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Oct. 23, 2021. Racing at speeds of up to 200 mph, the primary goal of the IAC is to advance technology that can speed the commercialization of fully autonomous vehicles and deployments of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). These enhancements will lead to increased safety and performance in all modes of racing and commercial transportation. In addition, the competition is a platform for students to excel in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

Power: Car with Aeroscreen Could Race This Weekend

In a mid afternoon press conference  NTT Indycar Series Jay Frye said today’s Aeroscreen test “exceeded our high expectations. We learned a lot; we have lot of work to do but the foundation is set.” Frye said the cars will visually be different when teams do their own things to blend the new device into their liveries.

If necessary, the AMR  Safety Team will be able to remove piece “within seconds,” Frye said. “They already have a piece they are practicing on,” he added.

The day long test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway saw drivers Will Power and Scott Dixon log 600 miles by 3 pm. Both drivers agreed that the test was seamless . Both drivers commented on how quiet it was in the cockpit. “I can hear my radio,” Dixon said.

Power was impressed with how quickly the project came together.  “When you’ve driven it for a day you’re going to feel naked without it, ” he said. Asked if this car could race this weekend, Power responded, “you could race this weekend; no problem, no issue.” Dixon agreed.

Power and Dixon still believe some adjustments need to be made with the tear-offs and air flow adjustments. They both think reflections need work as well.  Dixon sais there are some optional and driver’s personal preference items that need to be looked into as well.

Tire wear was not a concern today. Power said the car was more forgiving. The new weight distribution helped, he said. Dixon said on his long run the speed fall off was about the same as this year.

Following the press conference Power and Dixon returned to the track to do simulated “qualifying runs.”

I started the day skeptical of the aesthetics and how the Aeroscreen would work. I am ending the day impressed with the new safety piece. Safety is the first priority and this is a step in the right direction. As the piece blends in with the cars, it won’t be noticeable. It should be even less noticeable on the new chassis in 2022, when it is an integrated part of the car.

 

 

 

 

Aeroscreen Test Update

Photos: Eric Smith, Race Review Online

When the teams broke for lunch, I took some shots from inside the cockpit.  It is  a tight fit. The drivers seemed to have difficulty getting in and out of the car.  I wonder how taller drivers like Graham Rahal or Alexander Rossi will be able to get in without a challenge.  This enhances my concern about a driver getting out after an accident.

Another noticeable thing was the glare from the front wing and suspension arms. The mirrors look to be in a different spot as well.

I went to the turn 2 mounds for a bit.  The aeroscreen is noticeable a bit at first, but after a a couple of laps I didn’t even think about it. One thing I noticed this morning, and in turn 2 as well,, is the reverberation off the walls sounds different. It seems a bit muted and deeper.

The cars are supposed to run together at some point today to determine how much dirty air there is and see how well they can pass.

Back after the press conference.

 

 

 

The Next Step in Driver Protection

The Advanced Frontal Protection device  received a formal introduction today before the open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Jay Frye explained the concept and  explained why the NTT Indycar Series chose this system. The device will be used on the cars the rest of the season.

Some facts courtesy of the NTT Indycar Series:

Today is the first time the AFP will be used on track.

The device is made of titanium and manufactured by Dallara.

Versions of the AFP have been explored since 2012.

Dallara introduced the device to Indycar in January.

The AFP has been subjected to and passed the same loads as the roll hoop.

The AFP weighs 2.8 pounds with bolts. Reinforcements to the monocoque weigh 2.1 pounds.

Frye said this is the first phase of cockpit protection.

“Sometime in May we will announce the next phase, ” Frye said.

The next phase is for 2020.  Frye explained the reason for the length of the process.

“You can’t just put something on a car without vetting it all the way out,” he said.

The AFP cost $5,000.  Titanium is more expensive than steel, but its lighter weight was the reason titanium was chosen.

As far as the view from the cockpit, this should be a minimal distraction.

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Track Update

After about 20 minutes of running, the track was closed because of rain. An update will be given n about an hour. Ed Carpenter had the fastest lap at 220.817. I hope to get some photos during the rain delay of som.e of the newer liveries.

I will keep you posted through The Pit Window on Twitter and The Pit Window’s Facebook page.

 

Indycar Introduces New Safety Device- Some Thoughts

Yesterday Indycar introduced a new safety device which will debut at the Indianapolis 500. It is a small deflector in front of the cockpit between the rearview mirrors. The device, called the Advanced Frontal Protection Device (AFP),  is supposed to deflect low flying small debris.   The three inch high, 0.75 inch wide titanium piece is built b Dallara. The windscreen still needs more development, which is continuing. It might surprise you, but probably doesn’t , that I have some thoughts about this device.

In fairness, the AFP has not appeared out of the blue. It has bee discussed and studied for a few years. I’m positive the series would not put something on the car that has not been researched.

First, I have to trust Jay Frye and his team on this one. The never ending quest to make the cars safer is always at the front of his mind. I applaud his effort to implement some sort of safety deflector as an alternative to the windscreen. The screen had some issues. It added heat to the cockpits. Drivers who tested it complained of distortion and limited vision. I like that they are still working on it. The AFP does not appear to affect the driver’s sightline.

“Safety is a never-ending pursuit, and this is INDYCAR’s latest step in the evolution,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “There are more details to come about the phases to follow.”

I’m glad that the NTT Indycar Seeries is not proceeding with the windscreen because they don’t feel it is ready.

My concern is the AFP appears to be limited in what it can prevent from entering the cockpit and striking the driver. I’m not an engineer, but it appears that debris must come at a specific angle on a low trajectory for it to be effective.  The device seems designed to stop smaller objects.

Before commenting further, I would like to see a view of this from the front of the car.

I hope this is a stopgap feature leading to the windscreen. The AFP looks like it is a transitional device which will give way to a more comprehensive cockpit protector.

While the 500 will be the first race for the cars to use the AFP, it will be on all cars for the April 24 test at the  Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Like many safety devices, I hope it is never tested in a race. Sadly, needing it is the only to know if it works as intended.

A close-up of the deflector highlighted in green:

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Image by Indycar

Again, I need to see this in person and learn more about what it is designed to do before I pass a definite judgment.

 

You can read the complete release at Indycar.com