Introducing Australia’s first driverless racing car

Moving Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 09 November 2019

Monash University students have built Australia’s first driverless racing car.

Paras Bhutiani is not your average racing-car driver. He can’t see the track or feel the wind as the car whips through the chicane. In fact, he’s not even behind the wheel. 

Paras heads the Monash University team that has developed Australia’s first student-built driverless racing car.

It has taken 200 students more than three years to create the M19-D, a competition-standard racing car, which will debut at next year’s international ‘Formula Student’ driverless car race in Germany.

When it comes to seeing the track, the car itself detects the road and surrounding environment in real time through an advanced laser scanner and a stereoscopic camera system that judges distance like a human eye using artificial intelligence. 

Driverless race car being driven around track

The onboard GPS unit is accurate to within a 10-centimetre radius while an emergency braking system kicks in if the car fails in any way. The car is an open-wheeled Formula-style racing car which, although designed to be driverless, has a driver’s seat – which makes it somewhat unnerving to watch zipping around a track.

Paras says the project involves the latest innovations in driverless-car technology, including complex environment-perception algorithms, while preparing Monash students for automotive careers in a world where autonomous vehicles could be the norm.

He says the car is built to exacting competition standards and will race in the ‘Formula Student Germany’ driverless-car race next August against international teams.

The Monash team’s chassis engineer and business liaison officer Jack Church says the competition involves testing the car’s acceleration and handling on a “skidpad”.

“The ‘track drive’ involves the car going on an unknown track for 10 laps – on the first lap it gathers all the information about conditions and the track, and then [as it learns] it goes faster and faster on the rest of the laps, maybe up to 100kmh,” Jack says.

He says the M19-D (Monash 2019 – driverless) is not remote controlled, but rather “gathers and analyses data on board and drives itself”. 

The car is built to exacting competition standards and will race in the ‘Formula Student Germany’ driverless-car race next August against international teams.

Monash dean of engineering Professor Elizabeth Croft says the project gives students the opportunity to develop international-standard technical and entrepreneurial skills.

“Our students have proven their capability to lead innovation in advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, computer vision and machine learning, well before they’ve even graduated,” she says.

For those wanting a peek into the future, Monash’s driverless car will be on display at the Formula SAE-A (Society of Automotive Engineers – Australasia) competition at the Winton Motor Raceway near Benalla in north-east Victoria from 5 to 8 December. 

The driverless car will not compete in the event, but drivers from more than 30 university teams from around the world will get behind the wheel to test their purpose-built Formula SAE-A racing cars.

Now in its 20th year, the competition showcases rigorous academic concepts applied to real-world experiences on the track. It attracts industry leaders and motor enthusiasts to see premier design, construction and on-track performance of electric and internal-combustion cars from leading university teams.

SAE-A chairman Adrian Feeney says members of participating university teams are headhunted for their unique skills in engineering, management, leadership, teamwork, marketing and finance.

He says volunteers who want to get involved and receive on the job training can register.