Almost two years after being announced, the world’s first autonomous racecar competition will take place Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Indy Autonomous Challenge will feature nine teams of students representing 21 universities from throughout the world sending their driverless cars around the 2.5-mile oval in pursuit of $1 million in prize money. Energy Systems Network Chief Executive Officer Paul Mitchell says the event is the culmination of a long journey and creates a lot of excitement.

In an interview on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick, IMS President Doug Boles said the competition harkens back to the beginning of the Speedway.

“[IMS] was built to test the new technology of the day, which was the automobile,” said Boles. “So, to be able to continue to do that 112 years later, I think Carl Fisher would be very excited. For the folks at ESN, who are really managing the competition, it’s an opportunity to give universities and university students to showcase how bright they are and how they can take on a really difficult challenge and be successful with it. Hopefully, it puts Indianapolis and central Indiana on the map as a technology hub and a place where we attract some of those folks to come spend their professional careers here in the Indianapolis area.”

Boles says the teams began practicing with the cars driving around Lucas Oil Raceway in Indy before transitioning to IMS. While the cars have exceeded 100 miles per hour in testing, Mitchell says the final speeds are still yet to be determined.

“Most of our teams are hesitant to put the pedal to the metal, so to say, until the actual competition because there’s a lot at stake. They don’t want to wreck their car before the day of; they obviously don’t want to wreck their at all, but they don’t want to take those risks until there’s $1 million on the line,” said Mitchell. “The cars are rated to be able to go 180, 190, maybe touch 200 miles an hour. I don’t know that we’ll see them top out in that way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re in the mid-100s.”

Boles says, in addition to the participants, the competition is also bringing benefits on the corporate side. He says companies like Cisco, which is the presenting sponsor of the event, are very interested in how the competition plays out.

“[Cisco has] really created sort of the technology communication platform around which these cars can continue to know where they are on the track, talk the computer so that they can navigate around the track completely autonomously,” said Boles. “But even people who are endemic to our sport, like Firestone, for example, is really excited about the tire technology that you learn from this. NTT Data has interest in seeing this. So, this has a lot of interest…for a lot of brands around the world.”

The competition will not be a head-to-head race with all cars on the track at the same time. Mitchell says the final format for the competition will be unveiled closer to the start of the event.

ESN says the primary goal of the IAC is to advance technology “that can speed the commercialization of fully autonomous vehicles and advanced driver-assistance systems, but also to inspire STEM students to become the next generation of innovators. Hundreds of high school STEM students representing more than 50 school districts across the state will be in attendance for the competition. 

Earlier this week, the IAC announced Amazon Web Services will livestream the event around the word. The stream will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the IAC website and the IAC Twitch channel.

Mitchell says the event is the culmination of a long journey and creates a lot of excitement.