First high-speed driverless car race takes place in Las Vegas

Morning In America

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (KTLA) — History was made at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway as teams from all over the world competed in the first-ever high-speed, head-to-head driverless car race.

It was a “first of its kind” passing competition, Paul Mitchell, Energy Systems Network CEO and organizer of the challenge, said.

“This is the first time in the world that two autonomous race cars will be on the track at the same time, passing each other at higher and higher speeds,” Mitchell said.

At the Indy Autonomous Challenge, cars weren’t remote-controlled, but rather run by an artificial intelligence robot driver, meaning cars have to make decisions on their own, Mitchell said. All of the autonomy systems are stored in the cockpit, where human drivers usually go.

Teams can adjust the speed of the vehicle once the race starts, but can’t send any other instructions.

Teams from universities around the world competed in this year’s Indy Autonomous Challenge. A team named Polimove won the competition and set a new autonomous speed record for the event at 173 mph, taking home a prize worth $150,000.

Because of COVID-19, stands were empty, but a small audience was present to see history being made at high speeds.

“It’s about developing the software for these very high-performance race cars,” Gary Passon, with team AI Racing Tech said, and teaching them to see, think and act in a way that replicates “as much as possible” the human race car driver’s performances.

At this year’s Indy Autonomous Challenge, cars had to pass each other all by themselves, which they did – at speeds of over 160 mph.

“The nice thing about fully autonomous vehicles is that when we have a wreck, no one is going to get hurt,” Mitchell said.

Rich DeMuro, a tech reporter with NewsNation local affiliate KTLA in Las Vegas, was at the race. He reports that the action at the race took place in short bursts, and there were some technical difficulties along the way. At least one of the cars couldn’t race due to disqualification or another issue that kept it from competing.

But when cars were able to go around the track, it felt more like a real race, with cars trying to overtake and even pass each other.

As DeMuro reports, the competition isn’t about creating a robot NASCAR. It’s about pushing the limits of autonomous driving so everyone can benefit from additional safety.

“As you’re solving the problem of having these autonomous cars race at extremely high speeds it just makes it that much safer when this technology is applied back to the consumer market for self-driving cars for everyday commutes and ride sharing,” Will Bryan with team Autonomous Tiger Racing said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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