In September 2017 URE announced its ambition to build the first driverless racing car in the Benelux. The result should have made its debut in June 2018, but things took an unexpected turn. “We were working in two teams on two different cars,” explains team manager and student of Applied Physics Dion Engels. “Eventually you realize that one 'baby' is a little bit more important than the other. We ran into various problems and in May the late decision was taken to put the driverless racing car project on hold.”
All the effort invested during this year nonetheless drew a result last Tuesday when URE won the KIVI Best Student Team Award 2018 and the purse of three thousand euros that comes with it. In seizing victory, URE outdid two other TU/e teams, InMotion and Solar Team Eindhoven.
According to Engels, work has now been resumed on the project stopped in May, and the URE11 (which was driven in 2016) is serving as a test platform, “but we aren't planning a big reveal. Later we'll convert the URE14, but of course we don't have that yet.” The URE11 incidentally has not yet driven a single meter driverless, but you can be sure that will happen in “the coming weeks”, the team manager guarantees.
The scenario the team faced last season - simultaneously building two cars - is something URE is now keen to avoid. Accordingly, the whole team is now working towards a single goal: building a racing car that can be converted into an driverless racer in under three hours. The main aim is to build a suitable car for taking part in Formula Student Driverless.
Whether in 2019 this car will participate in this class in the most important competition of the season, held in Germany, the team does not yet know. “Thanks to last year's top 5 placing we have already qualified with the electric car. But we still need to qualify for the driverless competition. If we manage that, we'll give it all we've got,” says Engels, who has various plans in place. “We don't yet know exactly how our season will go. In the ideal scenario we're on the starting line at Formula Student Netherlands in the electric class, at Formula Student Germany in the driverless class, and we get to choose what we do in Spain, should they also have a driverless category this season. If we don't qualify for 'driverless' in Germany, we will probably go to Hungary or Italy instead and find a driverless race there.”
Driverless and modular
Coincidentally, the most important competition, the FSG in Germany, recently announced that as of 2021 the separate FSD category will be dropped, and that in phases all cars will have to become driverless, starting with the acceleration test. Thanks to its ‘modular’ design, URE is already prepared for this. “It's only six parts in principle and we can design them in such a way that the conversion is made easy,” says Engels. “For example, we will make sure we can easily remove the wings during the acceleration and can add on the driverless parts, while for other competition elements we can easily put the wings back on.”
Whereas last year URE was streets ahead of the competition in the battle for the honorary title of ‘first driverless racing car in the Benelux’, this year the team must take serious account of competition from Delft. The Delft team likewise wants to have a driverless racing car on the track in the summer of 2019.
“Now it's really a competition,” says Engels with a laugh. “They are collaborating with MIT and have a team of fifty, that's considerably more than we have. But in principle they are starting from scratch and are using an older car. We have a head start and are keen to bring home the 'title'. It'll be another thing to check off the list.”
Impact of fire at Prodrive still unclear
For URE, the high-tech company Prodrive is an important partner. Among other things, this company supplies URE with the inverter, a very important part that controls the racing car's electric powertrain. On Saturday December 1st, one of Prodrive's buildings on an industrial estate at Son was almost reduced to ashes by a large fire. According to Engels, the fire and the resulting damage will undoubtedly have consequences for URE's collaboration with Prodrive. “In the coming week we will look at exactly what the consequences are,” says Engels, “and after that we hope to get things back on schedule with the car's production.”