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Industry demand means autonomous element set to grow at Formula Student

Joseph Flaig

The IMechE's Autonomous Driving Systems – Drone Vehicle is leading the way for developing autonomous driving capabilities among student engineers
The IMechE's Autonomous Driving Systems – Drone Vehicle is leading the way for developing autonomous driving capabilities among student engineers

The autonomous driving element at Formula Student is set to expand over the coming years, the head judge and IMechE president-elect has said.

This year’s competition, which concluded yesterday (21 July) at Silverstone Race Circuit, included its first ever autonomous car contest alongside the established driver-controlled petrol and electric elements. FS-AI events included acceleration, sprint and track drive.

Four teams, all from UK universities, developed driverless software and sensor systems. The teams took turns running their systems on the bespoke Drone Vehicle, developed by the IMechE and partners. Team Bath Electric also ‘autonomised’ a previous entry, retrofitting self-driving technology to its TBRe18.  

Phoenix Racing from Coventry University won the AI acceleration and sprint competitions, while EUFS from the University of Edinburgh won track drive and were crowned overall winners of FS-AI. No team came out on top in the skid pad challenge.

The new element helped broaden student involvement in the competition, said outgoing head judge Terry Spall to Professional Engineering on Friday.

“We’re not just talking to engineers, we’re talking to computer scientists as well, people who are not necessarily associated with the IMechE, but this competition is bringing them together and bringing all the multi-disciplinary aspects of university life together… it’s a little different but the underlying principle is exactly the same,” said Spall, who is set to become president of the IMechE in 2020.

There is increasing demand for engineers with the skills to develop self-driving cars as the technology matures and becomes more mainstream, encouraged by the government.

“The pull is from industry, they want to have people with those skills… we’re in a good place to respond to this and give them what they want,” said Spall. “I would like to think that in – let’s say five years’ time – there might be 5,000 engineers in the world of AI that have come through this process.”

The IMechE’s Drone Vehicle was built with the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, Hypermotive, Streetdrone, Nvidia, IPG Automotive and DJ Racecars. The car is designed for repeated manufacture, said Spall, with Coventry receiving the second vehicle. Having a standard model lets teams focus on autonomy rather than vehicle dynamics, he said, unlike competitions in other countries where student teams are required to build the self-driving vehicles from scratch.

Italian success

MoRe Modena Racing was the overall winner of Formula Student 2019, beating more than 100 other teams after success in categories including endurance, most entertaining driver and final five lap run-off fastest clean lap. From the heart of Italy’s motor valley, the team was noted in the event guide for its “highly refined” suspension set-up.

Speaking to Professional Engineering before track events over the weekend, team leader Gianmarco Carbonieri said: “The car looks good, the weight is also a big target for us and we are now under 200kg. With our engine we are confident that the acceleration and all the other races will be going good.”

For more information on Formula Student, visit the official event page.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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