Clemson students engineer first-ever high-speed autonomous Indy race car
Engineering a driverless vehicle is hard enough. Designing it to exceed 180 mph and race alongside nine identical cars safely is nearly impossible. That’s exactly what 40 Clemson students, 38 partners and an army of visionary innovators did to put on the world’s first high-speed autonomous vehicle race. Clemson’s project represents one of the most advanced self-driving challenges ever attempted and one of the first university-designed vehicles to go into commercial production.
Self-driving technology is transforming the mobility industry. Companies pour millions into R&D efforts, hire specialized engineers and log millions of road miles in the race for advanced capabilities and untapped business opportunities. Driverless motorsports push the limits, achieving unprecedented speed, synchronicity, reliability and redundancy. These “edge cases” can save lives through safer and smarter cars.
This daunting challenge demanded world-class automotive expertise, facilities and resources to pull it off in just 18 months. Now in its 14th year, Clemson’s Deep Orange program pairs automotive engineering graduate students with equipment manufacturers to develop targeted prototypes. The process starts with a carefully crafted grand challenge, followed by curating an appropriately skilled student team, defining project scope and design parameters, assembling an ecosystem of industry partners, and hitting milestones for engineering, fabrication and validation.
Students not only developed complicated autonomous systems but also engineered novel hardware and advanced propulsion packages, integrated first-ever race control procedures, and fit everything into a tightly constrained aerodynamic package.
At 180 mph, Clemson’s race car covers the length of a football field in 1.2 seconds. The sensor suite — including six cameras, four radars, three long-distance LiDARs and two high-precision GPSes — can fill a 1TB hard drive in 20 minutes. For scale, the Hubble Space Telescope generates 10TB of data per year.
In March 2021, students tested their designs during a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In May, they unveiled their finished self-driving race car at the Indy 500. And in October, the team celebrated as 10 identical copies of their design sped around the 2.5-mile oval track.
“We say it all the time, but the ideal outcome of Deep Orange is highly capable students,” said Chris Paredis, BMW Endowed Chair in Automotive Systems Integration and Deep Orange program director. “This was an incredibly challenging project, but if our experience tells us anything, it’s that these learning experiences have a tremendous impact on their success after they leave Clemson.”