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Formula Student

Terry Spall, Chief Judge at Formula Student, explores the new driverless element of the competition

Formula Student 2018

Formula Student (FS), now in its 20th anniversary year has been producing highly sought-after graduate engineers, who have then gone on to very successful careers in leading automotive companies around the globe. Around 40,000 students have been through the FS experience, emerging as superbly rounded and work-ready graduates, with a skill set the automotive community craves.

With the emergence of autonomous vehicle technologies and the possibilities of driverless cars entering the market in the coming years, Formula Student has recognised it has a role to play in producing the new skill sets future automotive engineers will need.

Formula Student 2018 will see the introduction of an autonomous driving competition, which has been purpose-designed to stimulate the creation of the skill sets needed in the design and development of autonomous vehicles.  It involves the design of an ‘AI-driver’ to control a purpose-designed FS car (code named the ADS-DV) to compete in a series of trials at the Silverstone based competition.  Such a task requires high level software skills combined with a level of vehicle engineering, control engineering, integration and sensor technology know how.

Ross Brawn, who is the Patron of Formula Student, unveiled the ADS-DV vehicle to an audience of over 2000 students who are competing in FS2018.  Brawn, who I interviewed at the Opening Ceremony, inspired the audience with his F1 career experiences. He explained that the benefits of Formula Student competition were very clear; when he was team Principal at Mercedes AMG Petronas, he had over 50 FS alumni working for F1 and they were a great resource. To a packed audience of students, he told them that the introduction of an AI competition to FS was a very sensible evolution to ensure the competition can continue to deliver relevant skills to the automotive and motorsport employers.

The ADS-DV has been funded by the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) to enable a demonstration event to be staged at Silverstone this year.  CCAV have provided support to the FS-AI due to its great potential for accelerating the skills agenda in autonomous vehicles.  Engineers, technologists and programmers will be required to make the potential transformational benefits of the technology a reality.  The talent in the UK makes our universities world leading, and CCAV are determined that this translates into the UK as the go-to place for the development and deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles.  

Andrew Deakin, Formula Student Chairman, has been leading the team who have created the ADS-DV. When I spoke to him about the concept behind the FS-AI competition over lunch, he remarked that his team had been considering how best to incorporate AI technologies into the FS competition for some time and through that process, they were very clear that the competition had to be able to engage software engineers regardless of their vehicle engineering knowledge.  By providing the ADS-DV as a ‘generic’ vehicle platform, on to which students could download their software algorithms, the FS team could achieve this goal.

We are immensely grateful to CCAV and the IMechE for facilitating this as it has positioned us well to develop FS to deliver the skills vehicle manufacturers and their tier 1 suppliers are demanding.


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