During the presentation, the team showed the ‘electric version’, known as the URE14E. The car’s large wings are adorned with the names of the sponsors, but it is not fitted with the sensors that enable the URE14D to drive autonomously. Those sensors were recently stripped from the URE11 and will be installed in the new car soon, because the team is working against the clock to test everything and to make sure the car is reliable before the competition starts.
Driverless in Italy
Place and time: the Riccardo Paletti circuit in Italy, between 24 and 28 July. That is when the Formula ATA is scheduled. Originally, Hungary’s FS East was the preferred location, but the selection process for the Italian race turned out to be more interesting than initially expected. “Registration was based on the principle of first come, first serve, and we weren’t sure if we would be allowed to enter the race. We eventually moved up to eighth position, which means we are now among the first ten and get to take part,” team manager Dion Engels explains. “Our primary goal is to finish the race, and if we manage that I expect us to compete for the top position, or at least to end up on the podium,” he predicts.
FS Italy is one of three events schedules for this year. The URE14 will make its debut in the electric class during Formula Student Netherlands in Assen between 7 and 11 July. After that race, the car will be converted into driverless configuration in order to compete in Italy. Finally, URE will take part in the electric competition again during Formula Student Germany on the Hockenheim circuit, where the team will try to equal last season’s fifth place.
Engels: “We are still conducting tests with the URE11D. The system needs to be more robust. We now have a specific part, the framework, that needs to make sure that the communication between the different parts functions well. We saw that this often went wrong. So, we still have a lot of fine-tuning to do. We want the data traffic between scripts to function optimally, that’s a pretty tough challenge.”
Race against the clock
Making sure that all the car’s parts function right away will prove a tense affair. “We don’t have much time to conduct tests now, because the car was finished only recently. We hope that all the driverless parts will function simultaneously. The time between the competitions in the Netherlands and Italy is one and half weeks. But after the presentation, we will immediately convert, calibrate and test the car.”
The delay is due primarily to the drastic changes in regulations for the chassis, the team manager says. “They announce the rules in October, by which time we will have basically already finished the design of the car. The new rules were a bit more far-reaching than we expected, which caused us to completely redesign the chassis. The strength of the chassis had to meet different requirements and we needed to place the carbon-fiber in a different way as a result. We misjudged how time-consuming it is to practice and test this. All in all, it cost us three to four weeks.”
Winners of a competition with Delft?
The outcome of the competition between URE and Delft will decide who will have the first autonomous car. TU Delft’s Driverless car supposedly drove its first meters by now, but there are no images of this. “Unfortunately, there is no direct competition between us,” Engels says disappointedly. He would like to know which of the two teams will finish a race first. “But it’s great to see that they also have an autonomous car. It would be a huge accomplishment if the Netherlands were to produce two autonomous race cars. In the end though, we were the first to show that it’s possible.”
During autonomous races, the wings are replaced with sensors and computers. Two LiDAR sensors make it possible to locate the cones. The cameras detect the colors of the cones and make sure the car knows where it is going. It then has to start driving by itself.
“When we put the car onto the track, it doesn’t really know anything. It just knows there is a track and what the rules of the track are. It known that the cones can be placed 5 meters apart at the most. It then has to outline the track on its own, detect its position, and count how many laps it has driven. After ten laps, the car has to stop by itself. If we use the emergency stop, we haven’t achieved a result.”
“The system is split into two modes. The exploration mode sets off to explore: find the cones and drive around the track slowly. The car knows what the track looks like after the first lap and then switches to the normal driving mode. Then it can go faster. The limit depends on how fast the car can go, but to a great extent on how fast your system operates as well.”