How Autonomous Technology Is Being Stimulated By Competitive Sport

17-04-2019 |   |  By Christian Cawley

We're promised a future of autonomous vehicles, drones that will take us (and whatever else is needed) from A to B without accidents.

With a number of high-profile accidents involving automated vehicles, however, it seems that the technology still has some way to go before it can be safely introduced to roads, sea, and air.

To improve autonomous technology, several competitions have been launched, driving developers and engineers to improve their AI-controlled vehicles.

Autonomous Racing Cars

Several racing competitions for autonomous cars have been launched, including Roborace (a Formula E spinoff which pits self-driving cars against manually controlled vehicles) and Formula Student Driverless.

Big names are involved in the development of autonomous racing cars. For example, Porsche is developing software to capture data from a car being driven by a professional driver, which it intends to upload to a self-driving Porsche prototype to learn from.

Meanwhile, engineers at Stanford University have developed a neural network that enables driverless cars to drive as well as racing drivers. A highlight of this technology is the ability of their test cars to negotiate hairpin turns on a racetrack at high speed.


Self-driving cars aren't the only computer-controlled entering competitions. 2019 sees the launch of the Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) Circuit, which will feature four AI vs AI races. The winner on the AIRR Circuit will win $1 million. This joins the AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge where humans challenge AI pilots, which has a prize of $250,000.

The AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge was launched in 2018, an open challenge for teams of up to 10 to design an AI capable of flying a drone, powered by the Nvidia Jetson. Aerospace and defence giant Lockheed Martin is funding the competition, targeting U.S. undergraduate and graduate students, although any enthusiasts and coders over 18 can enter.


In August 2018 a transatlantic crossing by a robot boat was completed, reaching the coast of Ireland two and a half months after embarking from Canada.

The Sailbuoy Met was developed by Norway's Offshore Sensing AS to compete in the Microtransat Challenge, a challenge for robotic boats. Sailbuoy Met is the first vessel to complete the challenge, after 20 previous attempts by other teams ended in failure. Since SailBuoy Met reached its destination, another drone boat, SeaLeon, has been found in Ireland several months after contact was lost.

Aiming to "stimulate the development of autonomous boats through friendly competition," the Microtransat Challenge is returning for another competition in 2019.

With enhancements made with every race, these events are contributing important development to drone and autonomous vehicle technology.

By Christian Cawley

Christian Cawley is a freelance technology writer, with a background in healthcare and financial services industries. He writes extensively online, and contributes to print periodicals and specials.

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