Now in its 22nd year, Formula Student (FS) is an international competition for university students run by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The annual summer competition challenges student teams to use their creativity and technical skills to design, build and race single-seater cars in a series of events at Silverstone racetrack.
In recent years, FS has also developed an AI branch of the competition which requires teams to build and develop the driving systems to run a fully autonomous – or ‘self-driving’ – vehicle.
We spoke to EUFS AI team leaders Rokas Giedraitis and Jan Uhlir, about their preparation for the 2020 competition and how their plans were affected by the onset of Covid-19.
What were your plans for the 2020 Formula Student competition before Covid-19 struck?
Jan: After our great success with the AI software competitions in previous years, the team decided to build its own autonomous vehicle for the 2020 entry. This would bring in many interesting new challenges, provide the team with better understanding of autonomous control, and most importantly, allow the team to better test its software leading to even better performance.
The EUFS team operating a driverless F1-style car during the 2019 competition
How did the team continue working together during lockdown?
Jan: Design of the core subsystems such as the electric powertrain and the autonomous actuators was finalised in March, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic during the most crucial development period, very little could actually be built.
Being able to collaborate online, the team used the time to properly reflect upon the design decisions aiming for high levels of safety and redundancy and ensuring that all rules were met. (The concept of ‘redundancy’ means that we aim to improve the reliability of the whole system, for example by duplicating critical components and implementing features that minimise the effect of a component failure!)
A render of the driverless vehicle EUFS had been working on for the 2020 competition before lockdown
Did the Formula Student competition still go ahead in spite of lockdown?
Rokas: This year the physical competition at Silverstone was cancelled but the static events (design, real world application, simulation development and business presentations) took place online.
How did EUFS do?
Rokas: The team won the Automated Driving System (ADS) Design award which means that we had the best software and hardware design among all teams in the same class.
We have also won the overall ADS competition, suggesting that we are currently in the best position to be the first team in the UK to finally build an autonomous racing vehicle and have it enter the FS UK competition in 2021.
What does this latest success mean to the team?
Jan: Developing both electric and autonomous car for the first time has been a great challenge for our team – full of uncertainties and challenging decisions. Winning the ADS competition gave us confidence that these decisions were made correctly and that we are on the right track to build a successful autonomous race car.
The EUFS AI team during the 2019 Formula Student competition at Silverstone racetrack