By on August 22, 2012

The already fragile egos of HPDE drivers are about to take another hit. Shelley, the autonomous Audi TT-S developed by Stanford, has tried her first lapping day, and the results were promising.

Shelley is capable of lapping in Thunderhill in well under two and a half minutes, which won’t win her any SCCA trophies. According to the article at Singularity Hub, however, she’s within a few seconds of “professional drivers” already. The exact laptimes aren’t available, so it’s impossible to know if she is running 2:29 or 2:14.

The Stanford people say that Shelley is particularly good at judging corner entry speed — which is interesting because that’s exactly the task that most novice track drivers get very wrong. In fact, you can argue that accurate corner estimation is the single most important task a racer faces.

Watching the very short snippets of in-car video is interesting because you can clearly see the car working the wheel back and forth mid-corner to find out the available grip. This little rocking motion is common to racing drivers everywhere, particularly in wet conditions. Note, too, that the Audi’s nose doesn’t change direction when this happens; that’s because, as I’ve shown my students many harrowing times, when you’re already at the right speed for the corner, turning the steering wheel more accomplishes nothing.

Shelley’s now run Pikes Peak and Thunderhill. If she can just make it down to Pebble Beach next year, she’ll have accomplished more than pretty much every working motoring journo in the business. Thank G-d she can’t write.


Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

41 Comments on “Shelley The Self-Driving Audi Is Faster Than You Are...”

  • avatar

    So they want to pair the unpredictability of an autonomous car driving in dynamic weather/ traffic conditions with the unpredictability of Audi reliability? You think any city is gonna let one of these DEATH CARS loose on the streets?

    Autonomous cars are NEVER going to happen.

    … at least, not until we have true Artificial intelligence (that can pass a Turing test and you can have a long winded conversation with it). By that time, that same A.I. will have taken all our jobs and you won’t have the money to even buy anything like this.

    • 0 avatar

      An autonomous car defaults to “OMGSTOP!!”, pays 100% attention to every aspect of the car and the evironment, and has reaction times that smoke any human.

      Said humans, meanwhile, don’t pay much attention, indulge in risky behaviour, and aren’t particularly aware of much that goes on around them even at the best of times.

      I’ll take the death car over, eg, your average BlackBerry-reading middle-manager. Heck, I’d take the BlackBerry driving the death car.

      • 0 avatar

        An autonomous car can also see in all directions at once. The one Google was playing around with also had a phased-array radar that could see through a truck in front of it to track cars beyond that, which was particularly impressive.

      • 0 avatar

        If you wanna buy one, buy one…just keep it FAR away from my luxury cars cause’ I don’t want my paint scratched when yours makes a left turn of a bridge and says “RECALCULATING” as you plummet 1000 feet to your demise.

        Darwin Awards are issued for a reason.

      • 0 avatar

        Blackberry is a bad example. I actually still have one. It is about the least reliable consumer device I’ve ever had the misfortune to use, except for the one it replaced under warranty. I’d take anyone that is unimpaired enough to start their car over a car operated by a Blackberry.

      • 0 avatar

        “An autonomous car defaults to “OMGSTOP!!”, pays 100% attention to every aspect of the car and the evironment, and has reaction times that smoke any human.”

        They might not always default to stop. Crosswalks are one example. Paying attention to everything? Hopefully, but that is many years away – probably coinciding with cheap quantum computing devices.

        In the air, you can go with simplistic models of collision avoidance, but that won’t work for a car in the real world. You need to identify every object and figure out it’s potential behavior. Interpreting partially missing road markings, non-standard signs, cops directing traffic, interpreting detour signs…

        A pedestrian standing still in a crosswalk waiting for your vehicle to stop won’t register as a potential collision with a simplistic system. On the other hand, a robotic driver encountering a crosswalk with a telephone pole or traffic cone placed where a person might stand must understand that it’s not a person wanting to cross.

        Yes, these devices will be better drivers than humans, but they’ll also be better at everything else – and it will take your job.

      • 0 avatar

        “A pedestrian standing still in a crosswalk waiting for your vehicle to stop won’t register as a potential collision with a simplistic system.”

        That’s true. Good thing the systems in use aren’t simplistic. It already detects exactly what you’re talking about:

        As you can see just in the demo above, a random pedestrian is reacted to perfectly.

      • 0 avatar

        I would nail Shelly’s rear quarter panel with the perfect pit maneuver and spin her clear off the track, possibly inducing a rollover. Is her artificial or machine intelligence up to speed at the present time?

        We have to take down Skynet before it becomes self aware.

    • 0 avatar

      Most people can’t pass a Turing test. Sad,really.

    • 0 avatar

      Woah, calm down bro.

      Also, you’re scaring the computer you’re typing that on.

    • 0 avatar

      I now get your position. I disagree, and I don’t think facts or logic will change your mind. However, I now find it entertaining so I won’t argue.

    • 0 avatar

      Quiet down, geezer.

      In your lifetime, self-driving cars will not roam city streets, but they will be allowed to use express lanes or dedicated lanes. They will probably stay well below the posted speed limit, in order to minimize the stopping distance in an OMGSTOP!! situation as described by psarhjinian. While regular cars are subjected to waves of traffic as a result of the erratic driving of humans ahead of them on the road, the automated cars will travel at a consistent speed, unaffected by traffic, speed traps, and situations that require a full stop from 90mph.

      The computers that will do this (and they already exist, in cars with lane-holding and distance-maintaining cruise control) are a far cry from the buggy beige Windows 95 box that you seem to equate with all modern electronic technology. The future can’t come soon enough.

      • 0 avatar

        I had the misfortune/bad judgement to drive through Orange County on the 5 last Saturday afternoon. No construction/accidents/lane closures/police activities/brushfires/etc., just people being people for four hours of 10mph stop and go.

        I personally welcome our self-driving overlords as soon as possible!

  • avatar

    Great, Stanford is on the verge of creating an automotive ”I Win” button. Well at least this should lead to interesting forum debates as owners of robotic cars talk about how good they did at the the tracks in the same way owners of automated manuals love to tell you that a win in a win no matter the circumstances.

    Another great moment in automotive history will be when some knucklehead in an automated car rolls up next to you and informs you just how bad of a driver you are.

    • 0 avatar

      Amazing and impressive. Did it do it out of the box or was the road mapped ahead of time. I’d like to see 2 Audis equipped the same way do that at speed within a few feet of each other. Then, I’d like someone to toss a random road hazard in front of them.

      I can’t wait for the aftermarket intelligence boxes to hit the market.

      Instead “Adds 50 HP, 90 foot lbs of torque”, the ads will say
      “Adds 50 HP, 90 foot lbs of torque and 50 AIQ points (Automotive IQ points per SAE Spec 2020.)”

      This also looks like a great time to get into being a lawyer. I hope I live long enough for the lawsuits. Can you get behind the wheel drunk or stoned, but give over control to the car? If there’s an ensuing accident are you responsible?

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        I’d go to law school because of automated cars. I’d work the Blue Screen of Death into my law firm’s logo. Or is there an app for that?

      • 0 avatar

        An automated car with a drunk person asleep at the wheel gets pulled over by the cops…

        We should get together and make a film.

      • 0 avatar

        Shelley’s algorithms were probably tuned for Thunderhill. Probably the track was mapped out in previous laps (to be able to take the blind crest at full speed), but this is a dynamic test not a canned map-following exercise.

        Add a third Audi with a human racer piloting it, and a fourth Audi with an average driver piloting it.

        I believe state and federal laws still assign responsibility to the human behind the wheel – so completely unpiloted vehicles are not permitted presently.

  • avatar
    Sam P


    I’d be totally fine with a fun self-driving car that I can either drive myself or ride along for fun as the car pulls off a 10/10th lap on a track.

  • avatar

    It drives on the limit? Holy nuts! And if you watch the other videos you see that the Audi is following a prescribed path by taking GPS signals down. Judging corner entry speed is just math here, but I wonder if the algorithm trail brakes. I’d like to see the car search for grip on the track rather than slavishly follow the digital breadcrumbs. But, dang!!

  • avatar

    I’d also like to know if the prescribed path laid down for the Audi included velocity values for specific xyz. Did a real driver create the data which the car then followed?

    • 0 avatar

      I drove/rode in BMW’s self driving track trainer car, which uses nearly identical technology to this car. It was eery, but as a roller coaster junkie, really fun. Basically a pro driver goes out in a GPS equipped car and sets the “perfect lap” and the car is programmed to drive the exact same driving line within 6″ either way at 90% of the pro’s speed.

  • avatar

    Signs and wonders…

    I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords. An all-robot sedan racing series would be a lot of fun to watch.

    We just need Hugh Jackman and uber-delicious Evangeline Lilly to star in a heart-warming movie about robot racing and we’ll be on our way!

  • avatar
    Freddy M

    So now I guess all the claims that super performance machines like the GTR and MP4-12C are “soulless” really will become a reality.

    Let me off this ride I think I’m done. :/

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    The perfect car for M3-Crash Video-Boy. Now, when he tells his bros to “Watch this!”, his father’s car won’t end up totaled in a boulder field.

  • avatar

    Two questions:

    1) Is the potentially better performance partly due to reduced weight? I.e. lack of a 160lb test driver, that’s significant for a high performance car. It’s not a fair comparison unless the test car is fitted with a 160lb dummy.

    2) Re the statement “particularly good at judging corner entry speed”, is the entire course mapped into the auto car before the test drive? If so, that’s also not fair, since in real life driving, you can’t assume that, at least for quite some time.

    • 0 avatar

      1) Potentially the car could be made lighter in time. I suspect the sensors and onboard computers add enough weight and aero drag to make up for it, for now.

      2) I’m sure it does have a good map of the track from previous laps, but so would a human driver after a few laps.

  • avatar

    “Thank G-d she can’t write.”

  • avatar

    Fabulous track.

    I was just lapping there on Sunday.

    I’m curious what the lap times were.

    Anyone with some practice can do 90% of the car’s maximum capability: If the car is capable of a 2:10 lap, that’s 2:24:4 for the anyone.

    The line looked pretty good except the video kept cutting out the exit phase so it wasn’t possible to tell if they were really using all the track.

    If I had the self drive feature in my own car it would certainly help me improve my own lap times. Imagine the car driving itself, acquiring acceleration/speed/path data while doing so, then comparing it to the data you generate yourself. It would be immediately clear where you needed to improve. I do wonder if the car figured out the best path or just copying what an experienced driver did earlier.

    • 0 avatar

      My guess is otherwise they would have described it differently than “less than two and a half minutes” (the “well under” appears to be Jack’s embellishment). The wheel movements look like it is adjusting itself back onto the pre-programmed path. Reacting rather than anticipating. I don’t think it is driving the car at the limit, or trying to work out what the limit is.

      Regardless, it is impressive stuff.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, from their press release, it sounds like it very well may be correcting:

        “For example, the math involved in getting a spinning wheel to grip the pavement is very similar to recovering from a slide on a patch of ice. “If we can figure out how to get Shelley out of trouble on a race track, we can get out of trouble on ice,” Gerdes said.”

        It sounds like if nothing else, the *intention* is to allow her to know what to do when she reaches the limit of grip.

  • avatar
    01 ZX3

    No thank you, I love driving too much to relinquish control to a computer.

  • avatar

    this is really just an advanced chess board

    its been well established that computer chess programs cam now beat 99.999999% of all human players (has issues with certain Russian dissidents)

    of course you can program a car to excel at one track

    its an advanced rat maze if you will, its only 3 mile track or whatever it is

  • avatar

    nice !!! Automatic cars will be take place of manual drivers cars in future. Automatic cars are designed with all safety precautions , so it will have near 0% chances of accidents . sometime because of human errors or mistakes made accidents . To avoid this We can use this cars . I will but one. Shelly is really great automatic car as we are seeing in this video . Thanks for sharing this great post!!!

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Guytonglavin: @Astigmatism me too! I bought a 960 24v as a stand-in once. My s80 was temporarily ill at the time. It...
  • Rocket: Since your credibility is currently in negative figures, I’ll take a pass on whatever anti-Ford link...
  • Flipper35: Is it just me? I don’t see Daytona as much as Citation.
  • Astigmatism: I coveted the 960 when I was a kid (I was a weird kid) but didn’t know this one existed. I like...
  • toronado: I bet buyers scarfed these up….

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber