The "TUM Autonomous Motorsport" team with its race car in Indianapolis.
Image: Indy Autonomous Challenge
  • Artificial Intelligence, Mobility
  • Reading time: 4 MIN

Technical University of Munich's AI-controlled race car makes fastest time in IndianapolisTUM wins the Indy Autonomous Challenge

The Indy Autonomous Challenge was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday – a race completely without drivers. Nine teams from universities around the world competed against one another with race cars controlled using Artificial Intelligence (AI). The Technical University of Munich (TUM) team made the best time with an average speed of 218 kilometers per hour. That won the young researchers first place and a cash prize of one million US dollars.

The Saturday race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was very unique: The race cars weren't piloted by humans, but by computers. Universities from around the world were called on to develop systems based on Artificial Intelligence that would make it possible for the cars to drive the track autonomously. The competition was organized by the non-profit Energy Systems Network and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The main objective of the race was to promote the technological development of autonomous driving and advanced driver assistance systems.

Qualifying for the race is a success in and of itself: Only nine teams were allowed to participate in the race. Represented by its "TUM Autonomous Motorsport" team, TUM was the only German university among the nine. The young TUM researchers' car managed an average speed of 218 kilometers per hour. "We're totally thrilled by the results," says team manager Alexander Wischnewski. "Our objective was to break 200 km/h, and we did exactly that." Second place went to the "EuroRacing" team, a joint effort on the part of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, University of Pisa, ETH Zurich and the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Extremely fast reactions necessary

"The Indy Autonomous Challenge places tremendous demands on a vehicle," says Wischnewski. "In contrast to normal street traffic there are practically no rules, which means the behavior of the other vehicles is very hard to predict. At speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour the software has to react to changes extremely quickly."

In just a fraction of a second the on-board computer captures and analyzes all the information supplied by the car's cameras, LIDAR sensors, GPS receivers and radar sensors. It then uses the data to make predictions about where the other vehicles are moving so that decisions can be made and passed on to the steering and braking systems as driving commands.

Highly realistic simulations

Approximately 60 doctoral candidates and students from the TUM Chair of Automotive Technology and Chair of Automatic Control worked for a year and a half on a software architecture which could safely and quickly master these assignments. In the process they applied experience gained in previous projects: As part of the Roborace demonstrations, the 2018 TUM Autonomous Motorsport Team participated in the Formula-E event in Berlin and in the 2019 event on the race track in Monteblanco, Spain. Nevertheless, they had to develop a completely new software basis to accommodate the different conditions and rules of the current race.

"We put a lot of time and energy into simulating the race car and the race course," says Wischnewski. One major challenge was the task of digitally simulating the optical cameras and lasers. The researchers and students also succeeded in simulating races with as many as eight autonomous race cars. "The virtual races made it possible for us to recognize and correct a lot of errors in advance. This also gave us an advantage, since transferring the software to the real car was not a big issue."

Solutions suited to street traffic

The victory in the Indianapolis race is a great success for the team. But the researchers wanted more, Wischnewski says. "The race lets us test and optimize an autonomous vehicle's rapid reactions to unpredictable events taking place at high speeds. This brings us a big step ahead in the development of autonomous vehicles which are safe in street traffic."

Wischnewski points out another important aspect: "We were also able to learn a lot about how the individual software components interact with one another. Research projects often concentrate on just a few specific questions. Here we have a chance to see what difficulties emerge when we look at the complete system."

TUM President Thomas F. Hofmann saluted the victory: "What a fantastic success for our TUM team – My sincere congratulations! This victory once again proves that Germany will still be able to hold the lead in the future by combining curiosity, team spirit and engineering sciences. Four victories in the Hyperloop competition, the recent fantastic success of the TUM Boring project, and now the Indy Autonomous Challenge: Teams from TUM won in each one of these highly distinguished, global competitions. We can all be proud of that!"

Technical University of Munich

Corporate Communications Center Stefanie Reiffert

Contacts to this article:

Prof. Markus Lienkamp
Technical University of Munich
+49 (89) 289 - 15344

Related articles at

“The road of the future is digital”

A team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has been working in the Providentia and Providentia++ projects to equip busy roads with advanced sensor technology. With artificial intelligence (AI), the data are…

The TUM Boring Team in Las Vegas with the trophy for winning "Not-a-Boring-Competition".

TUM Boring wins in Las Vegas

Elon Musk's "Not-a-Boring Competition" was held in Las Vegas on Sunday. Eight student teams from around the world competed against one another, drilling with boring machines they had constructed themselves. The Technical…

New early warning system for self-driving cars

A team of researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed a new early warning system for vehicles that uses artificial intelligence to learn from thousands of real traffic situations. A study of the…

Informatics student Haokun Zheng is one of the team leaders at TUM Boring.

A race to beat the snail

At stake: a science-focused high-tech race that happens underground. TUM Boring – a student group at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) – is taking part in the contest, launched by US billionaire Elon Musk, to develop…

The future cluster M Cube is researching the urban mobility of tomorrow.

M Cube future cluster wins federal funding

The Munich Cluster for the Future of Mobility in Metropolitan Regions (M Cube), under the leadership of the Technical University of Munich (TUM), is among the winners of the German government’s Clusters4Future competition.…

Computer scientists have developed software that prevents autonomous cars from causing accidents.

The accident preventers

Before autonomous vehicles participate in road traffic, they must demonstrate conclusively that they do not pose a danger to others. New software developed at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) prevents accidents by…

A Hyperloop tube in Bavaria: a team from the Technical University of Munich is researching this vision.

TUM launches hyperloop research program

It is designed to move passengers at close to the speed of sound: the Hyperloop. In international competitions, students of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have already demonstrated that they can build passenger…

TUM Hyperloop Pod 2019.

Fourth victory in the fourth race

Once again, the students of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) win the Hyperloop competition – the fourth win in a row. At a top speed of 288 miles per hour (463 km/h) the TUM Hyperloop-team left all other teams in…

Illustration of Sagitta.

Unmanned flying wing successfully tested

The unmanned aircraft Sagitta has successfully completed its first two test flights at the Overberg test range in South Africa. The project is part of the "Open Innovation" initiative launched by aircraft manufacturer…