Each technology is judged on three criteria. First, does it work properly? Secondly, we look at the scope of the technology and its purpose. Refinement of an existing tech isn't usually enough. Lastly, we consider whether it advances the industry, or just maintains the status quo. If it doesn't move the bar, it's not going to win.
As scheduling czar, it's my job to organize and facilitate testing. Work begins January 1, as we look and consider every new car that has hit the market since the previous year's competition. By July and August, we have our list narrowed to about 10 cars, give or take. The list is further parsed based on the feasibility of testing the technology and vehicle availability. There are some really impressive things that we might not be able to test because the feature isn't available by the time testing gets underway. Don't worry. These technologies that fall after the cutoff are eligible for next year's competition.
Once the cars are booked and dates are set, I spend a few days working with the video staff to figure out testing locations, and scheduling out each minute of everyone's schedule. There's a fine balance between getting enough seat time and keeping the workload reasonable so we're not working a 16-hour day. Drive routes need to be able to show off specific technologies while being short enough to get the entire staff through on one go. A smooth piece of empty road is no good for autonomous tech or some fancy suspension. Likewise, a rough road or heavy traffic can distract from other features. In certain cases, we'll used a closed course to test a feature.
Keys are exchanged, video is shot, and scorecards are filled out and placed in a fancy manila envelope. At the end of the day, we all head to dinner (some in less comfort than others). Though the winner comes down to a point total, there's always a discussion and debate over the merits and viability of certain tech and vehicles. While there's often a clear point advantage, it might not be obvious until the envelope is opened, and there's usually a healthy debate afterwards, reflecting the way that each editor weighs and balances the competition's parameters differently.
It's a fantastic competition to take part in. Not only is it fun to spend time in these cars closely analyzing their new and novel technologies, it's also a blast to figure out where the industry is going. This is the cutting edge of the future of transportation, and the winner will tell us a lot about what it'll look like.