Meet Shelley. Shelley is a white Audi TTS coupe that has a few extra antennae and one less driver than your average car. That's right, this Audi is an autonomous racecar crafted by Stanford University, and it’s now programmed to drive – no, blast itself around California’s Thunderhill Raceway.
The self-driving Shelley has been developed by Stanford's Dynamic Design Lab -- led by mechanical engineering associate professor Chris Gerdes -- and Volkswagen’s Electronic Research Lab. The goal of Shelley's laps around Thunderhill is to help advance the research in autonomous cars. The self-driving TTS can compute the most efficient line around the track and decide where best places are to brake and accelerate. However, Gerdes is looking to also pull knowledge from professional drivers: "Human drivers are very, very smooth," he says; unlike computers, humans can err off a prescribed route if they realize it will benefit them in competition or for a later turn on the course.
Stanford researchers also point out that the math in maintaining traction on a track is similar to keeping traction on ice. "If we can figure out how to get Shelley out of trouble on a race track," says Gerdes, "we can [figure out how to] get out of trouble on ice [in the real world]." Gerdes and his team are also planning on taking biometric data acquired from drivers during last weekend’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion to try and add a human touch to Shelley's driving demeanor.
If they are successful in their research, Stanford researchers point out, autonomous and partially-autonomous cars could be coming soon. General Motors, Continental, and Google are all working hard on varying levels of autonomous vehicles, too.
Check out Shelley in action in the video below.