Hundreds, if not thousands, of vehicles have raced to the top of Pikes Peak in the race’s 88-year history, but not one of them has done it without a driver. That could all change by the end of the summer if a team from Stanford University and their Audi TT-S are successful.
Volkswagen Group of America’s Electronic Research Lab has teamed up with Stanford University to build a driverless Audi TT-S to take on the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb. It’s hardly their first time at the rodeo. A Stanford team entered a driverless Volkswagen Touareg in a DARPA Challenge event in 2005 and won and followed it up with a second-place finish in the DARPA Urban Challenge two years later with a Volkswagen Passat Wagon. This time, though, the team is looking to do far more than simply complete the course. No, the TT-S won’t be puttering up the mountain at 5 miles per hour. It will be racing.
In this set of videos, members of the team give us a walk around of the car they’ve named “Shelly” after Michelle Mouton, the first woman to win the Pikes Peak Hill Climb overall in 1984. The car has been outfitted with GPS receivers and automated controls, allowing it to follow a pre-determined path using GPS tracking rather than cameras and sensors. Real-time feedback from the car’s stability and traction control systems allows the computer to determine how fast the car can go without losing control. The car has already achieved speeds of up to 130 mph without a driver at the wheel and the team hopes to have the car tackle the mountain at the very limits of its handling ability and grip.
Following further testing over the summer, Shelly will tackle Pikes Peak not at the actual race at the end of this month but at a special event in September. If all goes well, Shelly will be the first autonomous vehicle to attempt the 12.4-mile, 156-turn circuit to the top of 14,110-foot Pikes Peak, and will hopefully do so without crashing or going off the course. Though it won’t be challenging the 10:01.4 official record, any record it does set won’t be easy to beat.