Unmanned single-seater, the Politecnico di Milano wins in Las Vegas

In the final the Italian university hits a milestone that will go down in history as the first head-to-head race between unmanned cars. The $ 150,000 prize will be reinvested in research for the control of driverless vehicles

Matteo Solinghi


In Italian culture, the hyperbole “The machines will fly” is used to refer to something unlikely and extremely far in time. Something difficult to reach in a short time, in short. But if it will take several years of study to make the cars fly, seeing cars racing among them without any driver on board, in 2022 is no longer utopia. Yes, because in the context of Ces, the most influential technological event in the world, a test bed for innovative technologies, the organizers (Energy System Network) have put on the track Autonomous Challenge, a competition to the sound of software and technology that involved the most important universities in the world. And, ready to go, it was Italy, with the Milan Polytechnic, that won the coveted triumph.

Italian pride

The rest of the world responded to four US universities with two Italian teams (Milan and Modena), one German (Munich) and one Korean. The project, which started nearly two years ago, culminated in head-to-head battles at the Las Vegas Motor Speedaway, the oval scene of epic battles in the stars and stripes racing. But never before has the US facility hosted races… without pilots. “Initially there were almost forty competitors – explains Sergio Matteo Savaresi, professor at the Politecnico di Milano in the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering – 70% of them American. Then the group dwindled as the very complex project progressed. In the first phase we did a race simulation, while the second step (in October 2021, ed.) Saw the Dallara AV-21 single-seaters whiz one at a time at over 270 km / h on the Indianapolis track. In Las Vegas it was the first time that two self-driving cars competed on a real circuit and at impressive speeds ”. A first time the PoliMi will not easily forget.

The effort of the Polytechnic

The triumph of Las Vegas, which came by beating the Germans of the Tum of Monaco in the final, gave enormous visibility and prestige to the Politecnico di Milano with the Move research group of the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering. A victory, that of PoliMove, which can be considered yes, as a starting point for the development of autonomous driving in racing, but also the tip of the iceberg, what we see today. On the other hand, the hard work done by the staff of the Politecnico di Milano in the last two years, a considerable effort of resources and investments, which has led the Lombard university to the top of the world, did not leak out clearly: “Just to buy the car – reveals the professor -, co-financed by the state of Indiana, took 300,000 euros. This was also possible thanks to the sponsors and the victory of the first step, that of the race simulation. But we worked many months in America with a package of 15 people made up of a team of graduate students and PhD students selected from my research group. Each of them has specialized in a particular aspect, a specific sector: we had the specialist in localization with GPS, the specialist in vehicle dynamics control and so on. The first ‘episode’ took place in May: all the teams participated in a competition in a simulation environment to fine-tune the logic and algorithms ”. And on this occasion the Politecnico won the first prize, with a salary equal to 100 thousand euros.

Verse Las Vegas

The second episode was held in Indianapolis on October 23, with a lap launched on the oval, therefore without head-to-head with other cars. The Politecnico obtained the 3rd place after having encountered a technical overcurrent problem. However, the bad luck in Indianapolis was rewarded with the victory in Las Vegas, the first real race at very high speeds between self-driving single-seaters. “It was a very beautiful and engaging event – Professor Savaresi continues to explain. Ces gave great importance to this event and highlighted it. It was a real race, for now limited to two cars, but with overtaking at over 270 km / h at 2 meters one car after the other and with all the components of a race with drivers at the wheel, then qualifying, semifinals and final “.

For the future

The victory in Las Vegas and the speed record recently set by the Politecnico di Milano (176 mph, or over 283 km / h) are the result not only of two years of full immersion in creating, designing and developing an extremely complex structure that could push a real single-seater at these speeds, but a twenty-year job: “Since the early 2000s I have been teaching automation and vehicle control, working with the main car and motorcycle manufacturers. When the project was launched, at the beginning of 2020, we immediately took the initiative seriously, making resources and know-how available to achieve the desired results “. And for the future, the objectives are manifold: “The general concept of an autonomous vehicle is what will revolutionize mobility. It will completely change the model of mobility and our perception of it. Thus autonomous driving is by far the most interesting technology for the next 10 years. Racing had not yet dealt with this aspect, since it is assumed that there is always a driver driving to enhance his skills. But racing cannot forget such important car technologies, therefore anticipating, developing and testing in controlled contexts and distilling pieces of know-how and technology for production cars ”. And in this regard, the prize of $ 150,000 won by PoliMove will be immediately reinvested in research to advance in technology and knowledge.

Man versus machine

The last interesting aspect that Professor Sergio Matteo Savaresi takes into consideration is that of the man versus machine challenge: “Probably the direction that racing will take will be to create races where a given number of drivers will challenge X self-driving cars, but not earlier than 10 years. I do not exclude the fact that in a decade there will be championships where the teams will have a human driver and an artificial driver: an epic challenge and a very complicated but extremely exciting battle. At this point it will be a highly developed technology that will have important repercussions on production cars, with young trained engineers who will pave the way for this new vision of the automotive world ”.

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Unmanned single-seater, the Politecnico di Milano wins in Las Vegas