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University Teams to Compete in Self-Driving Car Challenge

The Indy Autonomous Challenge in Indianapolis will bring together teams from 21 universities across the globe to showcase their work on autonomous vehicles they’ve been developing in recent years.

Teams test self-driving cars for the upcoming Indy Autonomous Challenge.
Teams from over 20 universities around the world have been developing machine learning functions to make self-driving cars commonplace on roadways in the years to come. Those teams will compete this month at the Indy Autonomous Challenge, the world’s first autonomous racecar competition, to showcase their work over the past couple of years, according to event organizers.

The challenge, hosted by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Oct. 23, will be sponsored by networking company Cisco, as well as other tech and automotive industry companies such as ADLINK, Ansys, Aptiv, Bridgestone, Luminar, Microsoft and Valvoline, which provided resources and tech tools for the racecars. The goal of the event is to test vehicle software tools that can substitute for a human driver and make decisions by collecting information from cameras, GPS inputs and data sensors, according to a news release.

Competing teams come from schools such as the University of Hawaii; University of California, San Diego; Auburn University; Purdue University; University of Pisa in Italy; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Rochester Institute of Technology; and the Polish Academy of Sciences. Winners will receive $1.5 million in prize money.

“The Indy Autonomous Challenge began with more than 500 students registered from 41 universities. Today, we have 21 universities from nine countries that have formed 10 teams,” Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of the nonprofit Energy Systems Network, said in a public statement. “These teams have overcome tremendous technology challenges to operate fully autonomous racecars and have done so despite the COVID-19 global pandemic challenges and inability to gather together as teams for most of the competition.”

Renee Patton, director of education at Cisco, said the company will work with other sponsors by providing the event with Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to enable connectivity to and from the vehicles, including control commands, telemetry data offload, and GPS timing alignment.

Each team’s car will connect with Cisco’s Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul, which provides connectivity for mission-critical applications, similar to what 5G does for low-latency wireless communication. Industrial switches in each vehicle will connect with cameras and sensors to enable machine learning to take over, according to a recent news release announcing Cisco’s premier sponsorship of the event.

“We’re really excited about it because our Internet of Things technology is connecting all of it, and the connectivity is really critical because we’re able to tell the cars when to start their engines, when to synchronize GPS, timing, safety monitoring, telemetry data and driving software performance,” she said.

“It’s like 5G but better,” she later said of the wireless backhaul. “A lot of this is about network capacity.”

According to Patton, the challenge will encourage advancements within the field of autonomous technology, still in its infancy, in order to make self-driving cars safer and more reliable for mass use.

She said the connectivity technology provided by Cisco is already being used in industries such as manufacturing and mass transit.

“It’s kind of a playground for these university students to be able to see how wireless technologies can be used in automation,” she said. “Not only in terms of autonomous vehicles and driverless cars and trains, but how this directly translates to smart city, smart transportation and more.”

Patton hopes Cisco’s sponsorship in partnership with other tech companies will build upon the goals of the Cisco Networking Academy, the company’s education and workforce development program designed to encourage research in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related fields via courses offered at academies in 165 countries.

“We’re [sponsoring the event] not only to focus on further autonomous development and the improvement of vehicle safety and performance driverless trains, automated factories and warehouses, but because we really believe in student researchers and their ability to drive innovation for the future,” she said.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.