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?

Top Gear Unveils McLaren MP4-12C Spider

McLaren Spider MP4-12C

Attention all you high performance enthusiasts and exotic car aficionados, here’s a chance to evaluate the new 2012 McLaren MP4-12C Spider. This is particularly exciting given the number of these cars in the United States. By the time you're done with this, you'll be calling transport companies for bids on importing one of these.

Unveiling the New Model

Just over a year ago Ron Dennis of McLaren replaced the F1 with the newly designed MP4-12C. Sales had increased to over 1,000 units worldwide. Now Dennis has included a hardtop convertible dubbed the “Spider.”

Jeremey Clarkson of Top Gear was on hand in Geneva for the unveiling. Immediately it becomes evident that this car is the ultimate in eye candy. The aesthetics are such that it generates an “I have to have that” response right out of the box.

The car appears to sit low, but the 20-inch wheels fit perfectly high in the body giving the car ample ground clearance. It has huge intake vents just forward of the rear wheels which are functional because the engine uses two radiators — one on each side of the car.

A retractable spoiler adorns the rear hatch and forward of that is a killer-looking glass engine cover exposing the engine and turbo runners. It looks amazing with the Lambo doors open. And those are just a few of the high points — wait until you see the interior.

Going Inside

The interior is space-aged with a custom dash and console unlike any other car. A horseshoe-shaped panel runs vertically from the console up and around the steering wheel and down the door panel narrowing as it drops down. This contains the air vents on both sides at the top and all the switches as it continues down. Right away you will notice something missing — the gearshift. The MP4-12C has a 7-speed transmission with paddle shifters only. The color combinations accentuate the interior perfectly and the quality of the seats and panels are top notch.

What It Can Do

Now things are getting really interesting. The part that makes this dog hunt is a mid-engine 3.8-liter V8 with double overhead cams, port fuel injection and twin turbochargers. It produces an amazing 592 horsepower at 7,500 rpm and 443 pounds feet of torque. This was confirmed with a dyno test done by Straight Line.

Considering the size of the engine, it is quite an achievement. Anyone who builds racecars knows that all conventional engines have a fixed camshaft. The camshaft must be installed for either low-end torque or high rpm power. It requires a tradeoff. McLaren uses variable camshaft timing, however, to avoid trading anything. The camshafts run at low rpm to build torque. As the engine revs, a mechanism advances the camshaft to increase air and fuel flow.

The engine is also has a dry sump type oiling system. The oil is not contained in an oil pan but in an external oil tank. This allows the engine to sit lower in the cradle, effectively lowering the center of gravity. The MP4-12C goes from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds and back to 0 in a mere 100 feet. Top speed on the Spider is 204 mph, 3 mph slower than the hard top due to the weight. And good thing too – you can't get them everywhere, so if you're not going to use car transport companies, speeds like that will make your drive across the United States a lot more efficient.

Watch Top Gear's Jeremey Clarkson’s amazing video as he pits the McLaren MP4-12C against the Ferrari 458 in a road course. As you can see in the Top Gear segment the McLaren out-handles the Ferrari 458 in the tight course due to its computer-controlled stabilization.

If you purchase a McLaren be sure to use car transport companies that specialize in hauling exotic cars. The McLaren MP4-12C is a car that competes well with the highest profile exotic cars today, and is readily recognizable as the exotic that it is.

Driving Skills for Life, Working to Save Young Lives

What's the number one killer of teenagers?  You might be surprised to hear it's not drugs, guns, or alcohol.  It's vehicle fatalities.  One car manufacturer that is making an effort to combat this problem is Ford with it's Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) program.  With DSFL, Ford aims to educate new drivers about safe driving principles.  “We want to get the numbers down” says Jim Graham, Manager of DSFL.

DSFL events, which are held around the country, have overwhelming demand.  The events put teenagers behind the wheel with a professional race car driver to learn emergency maneuvers and how to handle dangerous road conditions and situations.  The hands-on instruction teaches the four key principles of DSFL: hazard recognition, speed management, space management, and vehicle handling.  You would think that teenagers would be excited at the opportunity to get into a car with a race car driver.  To some people, like a particular writer, it would be awesome to do this.  “At first they don't want to go.”  says Graham but, “Once they get into the car they want to do it again. We use young teachers that are considered cool and that the kids respond well too.”  Not only do teenagers love DSFL but parents have positive experiences as well.  “Parents get in the cars with teens.  For the most part they have not had professional driving safety training either.  They learn a lot as well.  Parents love the program.”

The program has saved lives in Illinois.  Outside Peoria 15 teenagers died in 1 year period.  DSFL went in to help address this issue.  They worked with the state and community and thus far there have been no new fatalities in the county.  They are now operating in the whole state and now there is a 50% reduction of teenage vehicle fatalities in the state of Illinois.  Great work!

DSFL also has help from celebrities to get the word out.  Kate Voegele, a musician and singer, talks with teenagers about safe driving habits through DSFL programs.  Colin Braun, a NASCAR driver, and Toby Keith, a country musician, have also contributed.  Braun spreads the message at tracks and through his social media network.  Keith made a Public Service Announcement (PSA) “No text message is worth your life” for DSFL.  The newest celebrity addition to the DSFL arsenal is Courtney Force, drag racing champion, and daughter of legendary drag racer John Force.  Courtney will be speaking with teenagers about safe driving habits around the country.

Ford not only aims to have DSFL events to teach teenagers and parents about driving, but to bring updated information right to you with their website.  “Learning to drive successfully is a life long learning experience.”  says Graham.  This is reflected in the vast content on the website which includes a safe driving simulator, educational materials, tips, videos, etc.  There are even downloadable school programs for teachers.  It's an all around resource for updated information regarding safe driving and how to develop better habits.

Driving Skills for Life is fully funded by Ford Motor Company.  The company even developed the program and will continue with it for a long time to come, as the number of newly licensed drivers grows every year.  In short, DSFL is a great service to the community that is saving lives.

R&H 1st Annual car show to benefit the Children’s Guild – Saturday July 16th

Ford GT

R&H Toyota will be holding their 1st Annual Car Show tomorrow, July 16th.  There will be great activities and events taking place, all for raising money for the Children's Guild.  A wonderful organization that serves the needs of children with trauma disorders, autism, or disabilities in the Maryland and DC area.  What was the impetus for starting the car show?  “We moved our service location from Reisterstown Road, and people didn't know where we were.  We decided to put on a car show and donate the proceeds to a worthy Charity.   The Children's Guild was an excellent choice.” says Jan Braverman coordinator for the event.

The show will include over 100 different vehicles of all kinds.  There will be Ferraris, Porsches, motorcycles, hot-rods, and imports at the show.  Mobil1 will have a racing simulator setup for attendees to try out and they will bring their NASCAR race car to display.  Shell will also have a racing simulator and their race car as well.  (A certain blogger is definitely going to try out both racing simulators.)  An automotive rotisserie, which aids in car restoration, will on be display as well.  R&H Toyota and R&H Mercedez-Benz will be setup with booths, raising money, and selling items for the Children's Guild.  All participants in the car show will receive a goodie bag and dash plaque.  New cars will also be on display from R&H if you are in the market for a new vehicle.

The show is Free for attendees, and it will be a great event.  Remember it's not just about cars, it supports the Children's Guild.

What: 1st Annual R&H Car Show to support the Children's Guild

When: Saturday, July 16th 2011 (9am – 3pm)

Where: Toyota Service Center, 15 Music Fair Rd, Owings Mills MD, 21117

Admission: Free for attendees, $15 pre-registration $25 day of show to participate