A team that included The University of Alabama won a historic race between self-driving cars recently, with the team’s vehicle achieving speeds no other autonomous car has reached ahead of the competition.
The team PoliMOVE formed by Politecnico di Milano, an Italian university, that included a professor and a graduate student from UA won the Autonomous Challenge at CES, making history as the first head-to-head autonomous racecar competition champion. PoliMOVE competed at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway among five teams from five countries representing seven universities, winning the $150,000 grand prize.
“The team as a whole shared a very strong desire to win, and our partnership was outstanding,” said Dr. Brandon Dixon, associate professor of computer science and team member. “This has been a good experience that has generated a lot of positive publicity for the University, so we will build off that momentum to bring on other faculty and students who want to join us.”
Dixon worked with computer science doctoral student Cole Frederick, a native of Montevallo who earned his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from UA, to create computer and software code that makes decisions for the car. Both Dixon, who races as an amateur in open-wheel competitions, and Frederick, who helped rebuild UA’s competitive engineering racing team as an undergraduate, brought deep knowledge of real-world motorsports that helped with vehicle dynamics and control.
“The team as a whole shared a very strong desire to win.”
The primary goal of the contest is to advance technology that can speed the commercialization of fully autonomous vehicles and deployments of advanced driver-assistance systems. These enhancements will lead to increased safety and performance in motorsports as well as all modes of commercial transportation.
The road to victory began in 2021 as part of the Indy Autonomous Challenge, which tasked 21 universities from nine countries formed into nine teams to compete in the first autonomous race car competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past October. The UA team, Crimson Autonomous Racing, showed early success in winning a virtual race, and later joined with an Italian university to compete in the race.
The Indy race was competed in time trials, but nine teams from eight countries representing 19 universities came to Las Vegas to compete in the Autonomous Challenge held in coordination with the annual technology and gadget trade show, CES. Of those, only five advanced to the final race.
In the lead-up to the race, PoliMOVE set the fastest speed record on an oval with a top speed of 173 mph. The partnership with PoliMOVE will continue as the team is discussing an attempt to formally set the speed record for a self-driving vehicle and more races could be held in the future.
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.