The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) is renowned worldwide as the ultimate racing capital. During CES 2021, the company Gainbridge presented a sneak peek at the ways IndyCar, the Indy500, and the Indy Autonomous Challenge are turning the IMS into a futuristic workshop for the smart cities of tomorrow.
Interesting Engineering was in attendance, and learned how Penske Entertainment Corp., Bridgestone, and NTT are marrying IndyCar race series, the Indy500, and the Indy Autonomous Challenge to create an unprecedented social and technological experiment — one also destined to become an endless source of AI-assisted entertainment.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, proving ground for smart cities
Originally designed as a test track for the U.S. automotive industry, the IMS has become a feature (not a bug) of the national economy. From the first paved racing track in 1909, to the first rearview mirror, the first use of crash-data recorders in 1993, and the introduction of energy-dissipating SAFER barriers in 2002, IndyCar has remained the epicenter of breakthroughs in automotive safety.
The Indy Autonomous Challenge — a $1 million high-speed autonomous race — will involve countless hours of simulations in 2021, with every University team competing on October 23, 2021, to vie for the top prize.
Competing parties hail from more than 30 universities from four continents and 11 countries — including 14 U.S. states — and their efforts will collectively bring automotive technology to a new and world-changing plateau. Needless to say, the competition will launch many careers in the autonomous vehicle industry, win or lose.
Indy autonomous challenge to add notoriety for all involved
Speakers at the Wednesday CES 2021 panel included President and CEO Mark Miles of Penske Entertainment — which owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Also participating was Chief Engineer Cara Adams of Bridgestone. Vice President of NTT Bennet Indart was also present.
The IMS location of the autonomous challenge is significant because, "since the nascent years of the auto industry [...] this place is about the intersection of speed and technology," said Miles.
"What people will see here is going to be way over the edge," said Miles, who hopes this will add value for everyone — in notoriety for and interest in schools, sponsors, and of course, the technology itself.
Autonomous racing tests new AI, safety 'at the edge'
"For us to be great on the track .. we have to always be innovating in terms of the way we race. We're always improving what we can do on the track," Miles added. "This challenges all of that."
"One thing that's very fascinating and practical — is that as the challenge, software and AI develop," the need to manage safety during high-speed maneuvers will also have vast import for the development of autonomous cars on the buyer's market, added Miles.
Bridgestone uses advanced analytics to examine tires
Bridgestone is deep into connected tires, advanced analytics, and sensors, explained Adams of Bridgestone. These in addition to fleet mobility are a few of the advances from the company that have already entered the commercial world.
"There's so much tech that goes into the NTT racecar series. We're designing a year in advance before these races," added Adams. Bridgestone uses advanced analytics to examine tire models far in advance, unlocking new virtual channels of communication between experts and engineers.
NTT's advanced AI analytics predicts crucial action events
NTT is showcasing its latest breakthroughs on the IndyCar platform. The company focuses on data generated around racecars, and the experience race fans can have. NTT has also worked for the Tour de France, baseball, and many other sports.
"It's in your DNA," remarked Indart.
Mobile apps also play a deceptively major role in IndyCar development. Used to enhance fan engagement, the NTT IndyCar mobile app enables real-time race viewing with up-to-date standings, schedules, and news. Advanced analytics and AI help generate better decision-making for both racing teams and larger organizations.
Notably, AI analytics can even predict action events during a race.
Real-time AI analytics data available on colossal arena screen
Indeed, there are "more than 140 types of data coming off of a car in real-time — to be able to take that in addition to sensors on the track to make a decision with AI to help predict or find stories about the race — we were able to automate all of that and produce it with low-latency, producing it for consumers and fans to enjoy their favorite sport even more."
Miles agreed, gesturing to a new gigantic videoboard recently installed in the IMS, in front of the Pagoda Plaza. All of the new content made possible by NTT's AI-assisted data analytics will be available on this new colossal screen.
"There's a lot to learn from testing that you may end up seeing in your car." And sometimes it works in reverse, noted Adams. Connected platforms are integral to sportscar tires — a technology most widely used in commercial cars.
IMS is the second-largest city in Indiana on race day
NTT's tech looks at the IoT, and how machine-to-machine interactions are constantly changing. "The smart city that we have in [...] IMS is a large city, with 300,000 people in the venue for every race," explained Indart. Integrated technology has to help the operation staff on game day — "we've been able to implement smart city tech in the form of events and event days, so they operate like smart cities," he added.
IMS is the second-largest city in the state of Indiana during a race — it even has its own hospital. "We end up with 300,000 people in one day every day for races at IMS, but they didn't grow up here." They have to show up in the morning, be seated efficiently so they can watch the race, and then get home safely. "Now we can even predict where [human traffic] issues will come up thanks to NTT technology."
Engineers remain at the epicenter of Indy racing
These races create new technology and content for the future of both fans of the races and commercial developments. Additionally, uninitiated enthusiasts will be able to understand insider terms like "tire strategy" faster than ever before thanks to the AI-assisted analytics — ever-present in new visual displays of the physical forces and strategies in play — all in intuitive, consumer-friendly ways.
Without a doubt, university students will face daunting challenges — not least of which is the deafening pace of technological advancement. As the host and location of the Indy Autonomous Challenge the IMS is "connecting devices that were previously analog," said Indart. Learning how these are automated and work in a system is the pathway to progress, he added.
However, despite the dizzying nexus of AI analytics, IoT, and smart cities, it's crucial to never forget who remains at the center of the action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "The most important position in racing is the team engineer," said Miles. "The tech, the skillset, [and] bandwidth for our sport is unlike any other."