Students build self-driving race car

​As the first and only Swedish team, Chalmers has qualified for the prestigious Formula Student Driverless competition in Germany. With a unique software in their car, the team hopes to wipe the floor with their competitors.
Already available was a whole lab dedicated to the development of self-driving vehicles, a proprietary software platform, and a ready-made electric racing car from last year's Formula Student competition.

"From there, it was quite a small step, to start a student team to rebuild the car for self-driving and compete in the race class for driverless cars," says the initiator and supervisor Ola Benderius, assistant professor at the Vehicle Engineering and Autonomous Systems Division.

Since last autumn, twelve students from five different master programs have worked to make the car self-driving as part of their master’s thesis.

"It's extremely fun and educational. It's a brand-new project and we have had a lot of freedom to achieve our goals," says team manager Emil Rylén, who studies Automotive Engineering.

A dedicated and multifaceted team

The team is divided into three groups, who work with each of the three main elements of self-driving: to perceive and interpret the surroundings, driving planning and control, and mechanical and electronic hardware to execute the control signals. Two of the team members were also in the team that built the car last year.

"We couldn’t have done it without them. They know and understand how the car works," says Rylén.
He describes the team as a very mixed group, both in terms of nationality, education and skills.

"Everyone is really dedicated. You definitely do not have to be a racing fan, but rather a technology fan and someone interested in cutting-edge technology."

Equipment for half a million SEK

To make the car self-driving, they have equipped the car with sensors like GPS, laser radar, dual-lens camera for deep vision, computers, and extra electronics and mechanisms to actuate the brakes, wheel, and accelerator. In total, the equipment cost about half a million SEK, but much of it will be reusable in coming years.

Financing is already ready for another three years. Interest among the students is very high, as is the industry's interest in recruiting those who participated in the team. Ola Benderius and his two supervisor colleagues – Christian Berger and Björnborg Nguyen – are already gathering next year's team.

It is also advantageous for the Chalmers lab for self-driving vehicles, Revere, to have a team in Formula Student Driverless.

"We get a chance to showcase Reveres’ abilities and skills, and the team attracts really good students. Hopefully, some of them hope to stay on as PhD students. In addition, the team is developing stuff that we can use in research," says Benderius.

Tests and competition in sight

In addition to the team being able to use Reveres’ premises, vehicles and skills, they also get time on the test track Astazero. At the moment, they can drive the racing car using a handheld remote control, but there is still a few weeks work before they can go over to self-driving tests.

"It will be very fun to test and go to the competition. Then we can reap the benefits of all the work we put down during the year," says Rylén.

While the other teams qualifying for the competition all chose the same well-established but somewhat obsolete software, the Chalmers team uses Chalmers’ proprietary software platform for driverless vehicles, OpenDLV.

“It makes us unique. A stable software is really important to succeed in the competition, and with experience from research, we know how to design it," says Benderius.

About the Formula Student Driverless competition

The competition will take place 6–12 August in Hockenheim, Germany, and includes a number of different challenges: braking, acceleration, skidpad testing and a track drive. The team will also have to present and explain their software and hardware design, as well as a business model. Read more about the competition at Formula Student Germany.

Read more:
Chalmers also has student teams that build and compete with driver-controlled electric race cars and sailboats. Read more on the Chalmers Formula Student website and in the article Organic boat building in a nutshell.

Text: Ingela Roos
Photo: Johan Bodell

Published: Fri 25 May 2018.