Self-driving racing cars put processors on the podium

Infinity Racing team’s working prototype.Until recently, the concept of a self-driving car seemed like the stuff of science fiction. But in just a few short years, some of the world’s largest car manufacturers and tech giants from Silicon Valley to Munich are testing various levels of vehicle autonomy. Industry experts predict that the first highly to fully automated vehicles (AVs) will hit the market between 2020 and 2025.

 

It’s not just on city streets that driverless vehicles are making their presence felt. Earlier this year, visitors to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona were treated to the unveiling of Robocar, an autonomous race car designed to compete in the recently formed Formula E racing series.

 

Now, students participating in this year’s Formula Student Germany (FSG) competition are designing and building their own driverless race car to be tested on a specially designed circuit in Hockenheim, home of the legendary race track used by the likes of Formula 1.

 

FSG is part of Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), a global student engineering design competition based on the concept of a fictional manufacturing company contracting students to develop a Formula-style race car. One goal of Formula Student Germany is to set new trends for the automotive industry. After successfully introducing Formula Student Electric in 2010, the organizers of the competition added a category for autonomous vehicles to this year’s competition.

 

With a little help from automotive experts at our company, the Technical University of Munich’s (TUM) TUfast team has spent the last 12 months designing and constructing self-driving race cars in their free time and on a restricted budget.

 

This year, our company has supported the TUfast team by providing technical advice, as well as samples and evaluation modules (EVMs) to support the car’s autonomous system design.

 

“You can be sure that every printed circuit board module has TI technology, and although we have developed some of our own sensors, they are mostly based on TI parts,” said Tobias Spath, TUfast team leader. 


Formula Students Germany, TUfast team member at competition
Rather than building a new car from scratch, the TUfast team adapted its 2015 electric vehicle entry so that it could operate autonomously. One of the most significant challenges the team faced was to choose from hundreds of sensors and actuators for an existing vehicle without sacrificing too much power.

 

To help the team manage power consumption, the TUFast team is using a range of technologies from our company, including LMZ31707RVQT SIMPLE SWITCHER® power modules and DCR011205 DC/DC converters.

 

“We only had about 800W of power to play with in total, so this meant finding creative ways to add the necessary actuators and sensors to the vehicle without overloading the system,” Tobias said. “We encountered a number of challenges along the way, both in terms of space and power. This is where the efficiency of the TI parts we used really helped. So far, the results are promising. We felt an enormous sense of achievement when we got the car to accelerate and break on its own.”

 

To Infinity and beyond

Another team working with our company this year is Kempten University’s Infinity Racing. The team is comprised of 40 people covering everything from design and marketing to mechanical engineering.


Thorsten Lorenzen, senior field applications engineer for automotive advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) at our company, supports the students as a technical advisor.

 

Infinity Racing team with their self-driving prototype.“Kempten is the only university in Germany that has a faculty specifically for ADAS,” Thorsten said. “I became involved with the university about a year ago, devising a course for students covering concepts and principles related to self-driving vehicles. We have an incredibly broad portfolio of technologies that enable semi-autonomous systems, so it has been fantastic to see the students put these technologies to use in their prototype.”

 

For its car to sense and analyse its environment, Infinity Racing used a combination of camera sensors and GPS technology to plot, log and process the route. Sitting at the heart of the system is the RVP-TDA2x board from D3engineering. Based on our TDA2x advanced vision processor, it enables synchronous acquisition of four FPD-Link III HD data streams for real-time vision processing and analytics. The camera recording the route also uses high-speed data technology from our company.

 
Get your motor running

TUfast recently put its car to the test at the Formula Student Germany competition, racing autonomous vehicles built by student teams from across the world. The team won fifth place overall and took first place in the business plan and third place in autonomous design subcategories.

 

For Infinity Racing, the past year has been an incredible and rewarding challenge that has resulted in a working prototype.

 

“We’ve really only scratched the surface in terms of what is possible,” said Kaan Ayhan, electrical architecture driverless student lead. “TI has been a great support throughout, giving us the best possible equipment we needed, as well as workshops to help us use the hardware optimally.”

 

With the help of our company, automotive developers are able to more quickly and easily design ADAS and semi-autonomous systems. Ultimately, the students hope to bring self-driving cars on the road with TI’s broad portfolio of ADAS technology.


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