University teams from around the world competed to program and race modified Indy Lights cars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in what became the highest-profile competition for autonomous vehicles since the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency held the 132-mile DARPA Grand Challenge in the desert between California and Nevada in 2004. None of the 15 cars managed to finish the DARPA course, but the technology spawned by that event is evident in millions of vehicles on the roads today.
The world’s first automobile races were organized as a way to demonstrate the safety and reliability of newly developed horseless carriages – eventually leading to mass production of automobiles for the commercial market. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most famous oval racecourse in the world, was built in 1909 by Carl Fisher to purposely test automobiles before making them available to the consumer market that was just getting started with Ford Model Ts. So the 2.5-mile track, known for high speeds, was the obvious choice for another groundbreaking race.
“There’s a long history of prize competitions setting goals that are meant to be impossible, just to see how close one might get to that goal,” said Paul Mitchell, the president and CEO of Energy Systems Network, one of the principal organizers of the event.
The aims of the Indy Autonomous Challenge were to advance technology for the commercialization of fully autonomous vehicles and to train students to research and work in the industry.