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?

Henry Ford: A Man & Car That Changed the World

henry ford
Henry Ford

Last night I watched a really fascinating PBS special on Henry Ford.  I learned a lot about Henry Ford and how he basically modernized the way we travel today with the Model T, built Ford, and become one of the greatest entrepreneurs and American industrialists the world has ever seen.

An absorbing life story of a farm boy who rose from obscurity to become the most influential American innovator of the 20th century, Henry Fordoffers an incisive look at the birth of the American auto industry with its long history of struggles between labor and management, and a thought-provoking reminder of how Ford's automobile forever changed the way we work, where we live, and our ideas about individuality, freedom, and possibility.

This is what the description on the ‘American Experience' special on the PBS website reads.

Somehow those words couldn't ring more true.  Imagine trying to get around nowadays without your car?  Even if you are reading this and don't own a car, I am sure you ride in cars all the time.

While a fascinating individual Henry Ford was far from perfect.  For instance he distributed papers that were meant to spread his ideals about Antisemitism.  As well he apparently bought land in Brazil to try to create a “Utopia.”  He was quite brutal to his son.  I guess a genius needs to be a bit eccentric to change the world though.

What I found most interesting about Ford was that he sounded a lot like Steve Jobs.  Very smart and changing the world but difficult to work with and he would sometimes fire people for seemingly odd reasons.  Steve Jobs was the same way, only he was working on changing the world through computers and Henry Ford changed it through making cars available to everyone.

A family member I was watching the American Experience PBS special actually said before I was going to, “He was the Steve Jobs of cars!”  After the show ended I checked various Twitter hashtags and noticed that it seemed others were making the same comparisons.

Not surprisingly the American Experience team on Twitter weighed in on the discussion too and plugged next week's on Silicon Valley episode.

I highly recommend you catch the Henry Ford ‘American Experience' special on your local PBS station next time it is on.  If you would rather you can also watch it on your computer.  (I prefer watching shows over-the-air with an Antenna since the quality is better.)

I learned a lot about Henry Ford and I write about cars for a living.  In my opinion another great reason to support your PBS and the great programming they produce! 🙂

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