BERKELEY, CA – November 13, 2023 – The University of California, Berkeley, the world’s number one public university, is assuming leadership of the nation’s most decorated autonomous racecar team in the Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC). After more than three years since its start at the University of Hawai’i, the AI Racing Tech Team has risen to prominence for advancing a sophisticated stack of autonomy, AI, and “sim-to-real” technologies under high-stakes, high-speed racing conditions as well as for winning races and setting speed records. As UC Berkeley takes on the role of lead university, the roster of universities, principals, and industry sponsors comprising and supporting the team remains the same.
The transition means that UC Berkeley will assume ownership of the team’s Dallara AV-21 racecar, the world’s fastest and most advanced autonomous racecar to date, produced in Speedway, Indiana, and valued at more than a million U.S. dollars. From a distance, the classic chassis resembles most modern racecars, but a closer look reveals no driver’s seat – instead, the interior is outfitted with cameras, sensors, and specialized hardware that, along with advanced controls, provide 100 percent automation.
“UC Berkeley is excited to lead the charge in this next phase of the team’s evolution,” says S. Shankar Sastry, faculty director of UC Berkeley’s Robot Open Autonomous Racing (ROAR) program, home of the AI Racing Tech Team. “With eyes on the research, we expect big gains for the team this racing season and can’t wait to get back out on the track.”
The AI Racing Tech Team is made up of a broad coalition of faculty and students in artificial intelligence and robotics at four universities: Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Hawai’i, and the University of California, San Diego, along with UC Berkeley. The team has also attracted industry sponsorships, including New Eagle LLC, Pratt Miller, ZblueSoftware, ADLINK, Luxonis, HTC Vive, VIA Technologies, Hitch Interactive, and ByteTrade Lab.
This pioneering competition for extreme autonomous robotics signals a transformative era for industries grappling with the challenges of pushing automated systems to the limit and corner cases of design. The race environment mirrors hardware challenges encountered in application domains such as aerospace, defense, and healthcare, which also include expensive equipment, limited access, unknown conditions, and the need for safety and performance assurances.
The team earned its distinctions at the Indy Autonomous Challenge Powered by Cisco at Texas Motor Speedway on November 11, 2022, and at the Autonomous Challenge at CES 2023 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on January 7, 2023, coming in as the top U.S. team at both competitions. In August, the team set the 1.78-mile Putnam Park Road Course autonomous lap record of 1 minute 27 seconds. The 2024 season for the Indy Autonomous Challenge starts off with an oval race during CES 2024 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on January 11, 2024. The rest of the 2024 season will be announced during CES, to include a return in June to Monza, Italy to race at the famous Autodromo Nazionale Monza, so familiar to Formula One fans, next June.
“With a stellar group of enthusiastic students – undergraduate and graduate – along with outstanding faculty expertise, we’re well-positioned to reach for new highs in this season,” says Allen Yang, UC Berkeley Robot Open Autonomous Racing (ROAR) Director, who now assumes the role of Principal Investigator of the AI Racing Tech Team.
The team was founded in 2020 by Gary Passon at the University of Hawai’i, Maui, consisting then of students from his Autonomous Vehicle Technology course. In 2021, the team expanded to include faculty and students from other universities – UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and Carnegie Mellon University in short order.
“We’ve been able to assemble an amazing group of universities and sponsors collaborating in one of the most technical and challenging international autonomous racing vehicle competitions in the world,” says Passon, who takes on a new role as AI Motorsports Race Principal at UC Berkeley. “Watch for us on the podium at the next IAC competition.”
“The Indy Autonomous Challenge looks forward to continuing to work closely with the AI Racing Tech Team to develop more advanced research projects and to create more opportunities for the automotive industry to strengthen their support of high-speed automation innovations under Berkeley’s leadership, of a team that has already accomplished so much,” says Paul Mitchell, President, Indy Autonomous Challenge.
“The end-to-end precision engineering across hardware and software required to survive this competition is as demanding as running a startup, and the students lead with extraordinary hard work and sacrifice,” adds C.K. Wolfe, Berkeley Engineering alum and ROAR program manager who has been with the team since Berkeley joined in 2021.
The UC Berkeley Robot Open Autonomous Racing (ROAR) program
The UC Berkeley Robot Open Autonomous Racing program (ROAR) was launched in 2019 to advance solutions of Autonomous Systems, Intelligent Machines, and Human-in-the-Loop Control for extreme robotics applications. Its faculty and students have extensive experience in developing high-performance algorithms for 3D Perception, Model Predictive Control, Reinforcement Learning, Generative AI, and Simulation and Virtual Reality, and have received major funding from NSF, ONR, ARL, DARPA, along with industry sponsors.
The AI Racing Tech Team
The AI Racing Tech Team, the U.S.-based team with the most podium finishes in last year’s Indy Autonomous Challenge, pushes untested boundaries and drives research to ensure the highest caliber of safety for the future of commercial autonomy. Co-led by Principal Investigator Allen Yang and AI Motorsports Race Principal Gary Passon of the University of Hawai’i, the team is made up of faculty and students from UC Berkeley, the University of Hawai’i, Carnegie Mellon University, and UC San Diego. The technical co-leads are Siddharth Saha, Haoru Xue, C.K. Wolfe, Chris Lai, and Tianlun Zhang.
The Indy Autonomous Challenge
The Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC) organizes racing competitions among university-affiliated teams from around the world to program fully autonomous racecars and compete in a series of history-making events at iconic tracks. Based in Indiana, IAC is working to establish a hub for performance automation in the state and is harnessing the power of innovative competitions to attract the best and brightest minds from around the globe to further state-of the-art technology in safety and performance of automated vehicles. The IAC started as a $1 million prize competition with 31 university teams signing up to compete more than three years ago, representing top engineering and technology universities from 11 countries, including 15 U.S. states.
Kap Stann, Communications