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Just a month after Lewis Hamilton was beaten to the Formula One championship title on the final lap, there was a glimpse at a possible future for racing as self-driving cars did battle at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday.
Part of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held annually in the state, the autonomous race was the first of its kind ever to be held.
With first prize commanding a hefty $150,000 (£110,000) competition was tense and the Italian-American PoliMOVE team stormed to victory with their car named Minerva.
The car topped out at 173mph as it outran the South Korean team Kaist.
Race organisers were delighted with the outcome as they hadn’t expected the cars to reach those kinds of speeds.
The competing teams were made up of students from around the world and the event aimed to improve self-driving technology to filter down into everyday cars.
Back in October 2021 the Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC) organisers delayed racing self-driving cars together to allow the tech to improve, limiting cars to doing fastest-laps individually.
The fastest speed achieved at that event was 155mph before the car spun out on a bend.
Instead of housing a driver, the front section was packed full of state-of-the-art technology.
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Each team competed using the Dallara AV-21 – a single-seat race car with hardware installed for autonomous driving.
The race was organised by American firm Energy Systems Network, a company that is aiming to speed up the development of self-driving tech for commercial use.
Paul Mitchell, CEO of the company and race organiser, said: “We came to CES this week, the world’s most influential technology innovation event, to showcase to the world how this competition is catapulting autonomous technologies forward.”
However the competitors weren’t seasoned racing professionals as IndyCar specialist Lee Anne Patterson explained.
“The students who program these cars are not mechanics; most of them knew nothing about racing,” she said.
The students quickly analyse data from sensors around the car and use it to program the piloting software.
Then that software has to anticipate how other cars on the course will behave and manoeuvre accordingly.
Mitchell said: ‘It plays out in milliseconds.
“The computer has to make the same decisions as a human driver, despite the speed.
“We’re harnessing the power of prize competitions to attract the best and the brightest minds from around the globe to further the state-of-the art technology in safety and performance of automated vehicles and the teams did just that today with another historic competition.”
The IAC has plans to use the data from last week’s race and upscale it to allow multiple teams of driverless cars to compete at bigger events.
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