Stanford goes from Pikes Peak to Thunderhill with autonomous Audi TTS

In the years since Stanford University engineers successfully programmed an Audi TTS to autonomously ascend Pikes Peak, the technology behind driverless cars has progressed leaps and bounds. Back then the Audi needed 27 minutes to make it up the 12.42-mile course – about 10 minutes slower than a human driver. These days, further improvements allow the vehicle to lap a track faster than a human.

The researchers recently took their autonomous TTS named Shelley to the undulating Thunderhill Raceway Park, and let it go on track without anyone inside. The Audi reportedly hit over 120 miles per hour, and according to The Telegraph, the circuit's CEO, who's also an amateur racing driver, took some laps as well and was 0.4 seconds slower than the computer.

To make these massive technological advancements, the Stanford engineers have been studying how racers handle a car. They also hooked up drivers' brains to electrodes and found the mind wasn't doing as much cognitively as expected. It instead operated largely on muscle memory.

"So by looking at race car drivers we are actually looking at the same mathematical problem that we use for safety on the highways. We've got the point of being fairly comparable to an expert driver in terms of our ability to drive around the track," Professor Chris Gerdes, director of Stanford's Revs Program, said to The Telegraph.

With progress coming so rapidly, it seems possible for autonomous racecars to best even elite drivers at some point in the near future.

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