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Pittsburgh Students Take to the Track with Autonomous Racing

Aug 3, 2022 | News

Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology takes new shape as autonomous racing vehicles (ARV) hit the track. MIT-PITT-RW is a student-led autonomous racing team composed of students who study at different universities across North America. The team name is a series of acronyms that highlight the four primary universities in which the students attend: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pittsburgh, Rochester Institute of Technology, and University of Waterloo (Canada). While the students may study at different universities, MIT-PITT-RW operates as one cohesive team. It aims to provide a unique and accessible hands-on robotics and software experience to students. The team is engaging in cutting edge research that will have an important impact on autonomous vehicle development. Innovation occurs in pushing the envelope of what is possible in racing, and autonomous racing is no different.

MIT-PITT-RW provides students the opportunity to work on an exciting project without the worry of having to pay for costs out of pocket. This allows their organization to bring on students who are excited about solving some of the most challenging problems in autonomous racing. As a result, the vast majority of the team is made up of undergraduates, underrepresented minorities, and first-generation students. Additionally, MIT-PITT-RW is proudly led by two women of color, a rarity in both STEM and motorsports. Following their work on the team, many members go on to pursue advanced graduate degrees or secure jobs in the robotics, engineering, and automotive industries.

Pittsburgh is an imperative part of this team, with 35% of team members attending Pittsburgh universities. The advanced robotics and technology community that exists in Pittsburgh is certainly to thank for this. In the first year of full operation, MIT-PITT-RW has had five students graduate and move on to advanced degrees at Pittsburgh universities, such as Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, or full-time roles with Pittsburgh technology companies, such as Motional. Participation in the Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC) series builds the Pittsburgh’s reputation as a leader in emerging AV technology and furthers the Pittsburgh area as a destination for top talent. As Pittsburgh grows into a hub for innovation in the industry, the potential for growth is exponential. MIT-PITT-RW offers students from across North America an entry point into all Pittsburgh has to offer in robotics and technology.

What does MIT-PITT-RW do?

There are several autonomous races that exist for teams to compete in, such as F1tenth and Roborace. The Indy Autonomous Challenge series organizes race challenges in which qualifying autonomous racing teams from all over the world compete. Up to this point, there have been just nine teams qualified to compete, and MIT-PITT-RW is the only team that is completely student-led. This means that the students are fully accountable for technology strategy and development as well as the business operations that enable the team to compete. They do not have formal support or academic funding from any labs or professors. As such, the team relies on corporate sponsorships to continue competing.

In 2021, the team purchased a Dallara AV-21 and began building their AV software stack. The vehicle is a full size racecar built with sensors and programmed with algorithms to make autonomous racing possible. The sensor suite includes three lidars, three radars, six cameras, and four GPS antennas. They competed in the first ever IAC event in October of 2021 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, reaching a speed of 69 miles per hour. A few months later, they attended CES for the second IAC event in January of 2022 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where they doubled their top speed to 138mph. The team is preparing for additional races this year where they hope to beat their top speed record while also being able to safely compete in multi-agent events.

How to get involved with MIT-PITT-RW

The primary lever that allows MIT-PITT-RW to do what they do in autonomous racing is the meaningful partnerships with corporate sponsors who support and collaborate with the team. The team’s fundraising efforts are key for sustaining operations and enabling MIT-PITT-RW to continue offering career changing opportunities to students. It is these partnerships that help the team push the boundaries of innovation in autonomous vehicle software development. There are broad sponsorship levels that allow companies of all sizes to partner with the team and receive benefits in recruiting and marketing. MIT-PITT-RW is currently seeking sponsors to partner with for their next round of events later this year!

To learn more about sponsorship opportunities with MIT-PITT-RW, email Erin Kust (eck34@pitt.edu).