from the coming-soon-'robot-races' dept.
The racetrack is the ultimate test of driving skill, managing power, traction, and braking to produce the fastest times. Now BBC reports that engineers at Stanford University have raced their souped-up Audi TTS dubbed ‘Shelley’ on the racetrack at speeds above 120 mph. When they time tested it against David Vodden, the racetrack CEO and amateur touring class champion, the driverless race car was faster by 0.4 of a second. "We’ve been trying to develop cars that perform like the very best human drivers,” says Professor Chris Gerdes who tested Shelley at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Northern California. “We’ve got the point of being fairly comparable to an expert driver in terms of our ability to drive around the track.”
To get the cars up to speed, the Stanford team studied drivers, even attaching electrodes to their heads to monitor brain activity in the hope of learning which neural circuits are working during difficult manoeuvres. Scientists were intrigued to find that during the most complex tasks, the experts used less brain power. They appeared to be acting on instinct and muscle memory rather than using judgement as a computer program would. Although there was previously very little difference between the path a professional driver takes around the course and the route charted by Shelley's algorithms until now the very best human drivers were still faster around the track, if just by a few seconds. Now the researchers predict that within the next 15 years, cars will drive with the skill of Michael Schumacher. What remains to be seen is how Shelly will do when running fender to fender with real human race drivers.