Racing to the top
Edinburgh students have taken first place at the UK’s first driverless race car competition thanks to an alumni-funded grant.
Formula Student is an educational competition that challenges university student teams from across the world to design, build and race a single-seat race car. The UK competition is held annually at Silverstone racetrack.
In July this year 3,000 students attended the contest, including members of the Edinburgh University Formula Student (EUFS) society.
EUFS was started by a couple of undergraduate engineering students in 2014. Only two years later, they managed to build their first race car and bring it to the competition.
The team has grown rapidly since. It now consists of three branches - Internal Combustion, Electrical Vehicles and Autonomous (Artificial Intelligence) - with various projects spanning across these fields. Since the society’s founding, more than 300 students have been involved and in the 2017/2018 season over 50 students from different disciplines contributed to the team’s work.
Over the past two semesters, the students spent many late nights developing the software for a driverless Formula One style racing vehicle in order to compete at the Formula Student competition.
During preparations, the students encountered many obstacles that tested their skills and abilities. According to the team, the biggest challenge was not being able to test the autonomous software on a real vehicle. But they found a solution. To validate their algorithms, they relied on a modified and sensor-equipped electric wheelchair.
This was instrumental in our success at the competition and we will definitely be continuing to use this platform for algorithm development, so don’t be surprised if you spot a self-driving wheelchair on campus next year!
The competition tests each team’s theoretical knowledge to get the students to think about the steps involved in engineering and manufacturing a complex product such as a race car. Students have to produce a business and marketing strategy, a full costing, a manufacturing analysis and an engineering design evaluation. Once the cars are safety-checked, the students get to race them in an attempt to set the best time. This evaluates the vehicle's endurance, reliability and speed.
This year, for the very first time, the students were challenged to develop the artificial intelligence for a driverless race vehicle. The Edinburgh students walked away with first prize in this category, after successfully using their software to navigate a self-driving car provided by the competition organisers.
In autumn last year, EUFS successfully applied for an alumni-funded grant to help them develop a software solution for their autonomous racing car.
The grant of £2,000 was funded entirely by donations to the Edinburgh Fund and enabled the team to gain access to cutting-edge technology, which was crucial in the team’s success.
Team member Oliver Day highlights that the impact of the project on the students’ university experience has been significant.
Formula Student has truly been an amazing journey for me. It has allowed me to apply the ideas I've learned in the classroom on a real-world project and gain experience in hands-on system design and teamwork. Seeing the car move by itself for the first time was thrilling and made all the hard work worth it. Now I am all the more excited to see how far we can go next year!
The team’s recent success has motivated the students for the future and they hope to maintain their top position and rate of progress.
In 2019, the team plans to test and develop the hardware for the powertrain (the main components that generate power and deliver it to the road surface) and control software for an electric vehicle, making them one of the few UK teams in this category. They also want to continue improving the self-driving software and start transforming one of their existing race cars into a fully autonomous one.
Edinburgh University Formula Student (external link)
EUFS Facebook page (external link)