Self-Driving Audi TT Race Car featured on ‘Making Stuff Faster’

audi tt
‘Shelley' a self-driving Audi TT

A self-driving Audi TT Race Car nicknamed “Shelley” was featured on the PBS (Public Broadcasting Station) NOVA special ‘Making Stuff Faster‘ with David Pogue that aired tonight (November 6th, 2013.)  The NOVA special highlighted what scientists, engineers, and companies are doing to make everyday products people use safer and the first segment of the show featured Shelley, the Audi TT that drives itself.

The self-driving race car was designed by Christian Gerdes, from Stanford University, and the segment was shot at the famous Thunderhill Raceway in California.  Gerdes ultimate goal is to take the lessons learned from Shelly, the Audi TT race car, and apply it in real world driving for those that haven't had the money, time, or exposure on a racetrack.  He hopes this will make reduce the chance of an accidents for everyday drivers out on the roads.

From what I can tell from the shots during ‘Making Stuff Faster' it looked like Christian Gerdes and his team have done a pretty good job so far.  David Pogue, a technology report for the New York Times, sat in the car as it went around the Thunderhill Raceway.  Just like anyone not used to being in a race car driven at high speeds he had to make a pit stop, so Shelley must have been going pretty fast.

One interesting part of the segment was when Pogue raced around the track in the Audi TT to set a time.   Then David Vodden, a veteran race car driver of Thunderhill, did the same thing.  Shelly then got a turn without having anyone control her to set a time.  The results were intersting;

  • David Vodden – 2 minutes 19 seconds
  • Self Driving Audi TT Race Car aka “Shelley” – 2 minutes 21 seconds
  • David Pogue – 2 minutes 51 seconds

I assumed that Shelley would win but I guess having a 50 years of racing experience, like David Vodden has, helps a lot.  Gerdes thinks that his self driving Audi TT will be able to beat any humane one day and I am sure it will as he refines it.

What's interesting is that several companies have been working on self-driving cars, which includes Google and Nissan, but as far as I there are not many people working on self driving race cars.  (That's because race car drivers don't like change!)  In my opinion it is probably easier to make a race car without a driver on a racetrack than on real world streets.  Why?  You don't need to factor in pedestrians, traffic lights, stop signs, and everything else that comes with racing on track.

Do you think self-driving race cars sound like something straight out of the movies and science fiction?  If you saw the segment what did you think?  If you haven't are you going to try to catch ‘Making Stuff Faster‘ next time it airs on your local PBS station?