You might be able to beat the bots in DriveClub, Forza, or Gran Turismo. But chances are that you will never beat Shelley the autonomous Audi TT.
Here’s the backstory: engineers at Stanford University have been hard at work crafting an autonomous Audi TT to zip around a track as fast as
humanly possible. Five years ago, the team took Shelley to ascend the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Since then, they have crafted Shelley into a serious apex hunter.
Back in 2010, Shelley took 27 minutes to race up the 12.42-mile course. That is about ten minutes (yes, a full ten minutes) slower than a human driver. By comparison, Shelley was recently let loose on Thunderhill Raceway Park in California and managed to hit speeds up to 120 mph (192 km/h).
The CEO of the circuit, who is an amateur racer, also took a TT around the course to see how Shelley would stack up. Even on the hottest lap, the human driver could only get within 0.4 seconds of the autonomous TT. From what we know, this marks the very first time an autonomous vehicle has managed to outrace a human driver.
To get Shelley from sluggish autonomous vehicle to a fast and precise driver-less racecar, the Stanford team hooked up drivers’ brains to electrodes and found that the racers weren’t processing as much cognitively as they expected. Instead of cold, hard calculations, the racers relied mostly on muscle memory to take them around the course. Even so, the Stanford team admits that a professional racecar driver would still beat Shelley around a course, if just by a few seconds, they are keen to get Shelley more in line with how the pros drive.
What does this mean for the future of auto racing? At this point, it’s too early to tell. But one thing is for sure: if Shelleys take over F1, we will probably never see the intoxicating performances of especially-gifted racers like Michael Schumacher or Ayrton Senna (video below, pardon the in-video music) ever again. And we don’t know if that’s such a good thing.