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August 29, 2019

Let the races begin: Helping the next generation discover self-driving

  • Life at Waymo
A photo of the MIT Delft Driverless Team and members of the Waymo team in front of an autonomous race car
A photo of the MIT Delft Driverless Team and members of the Waymo team in front of an autonomous race car

When I entered graduate school at MIT in 2006, self-driving cars were primarily a research effort, highlighted by the DARPA Grand Challenges. While those competitions sparked so much passion and interest in the field during my student days, the last Grand Challenge for self-driving happened over a decade ago. What’s inspiring to me is how today’s students and volunteers are now creating their own self-driving competitions.

This year, Waymo became a platinum sponsor of the MIT Driverless team, and I had the pleasure of meeting with the students as they prepared for and competed in Formula Student Germany for the first time in collaboration with Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). Formula Student is an international design competition for students, but unlike other racing competitions, it’s much more than a race. Students from all over the globe form teams of 20 to 40 people with various backgrounds, ranging from mechanical and electrical engineering to marketing and communications, to design, build, test, and “sell” a prototype self-driving car to a panel of judges. The competition culminates in Germany where teams compete in a series of static events and place their vehicles through a grueling safety inspection. If a team passes the safety checks, they take their cars to the track to complete in traditional events autonomously.

I was impressed by every team we saw at the competition, but especially the MIT / TU Delft team, whose hard work paid off in a 3rd-place podium finish for the Driverless competition! The team earned first place for their cost and manufacturing plan; second place for their business and concept presentation; third place for their engineering design; and fourth place in the trackdrive, the 10-lap signature event for Driverless. This is a major accomplishment for any team, especially in their first year entering the Driverless competition.

The competition fosters many of our Waymo values, including safety, teamwork, and an interdisciplinary approach. We’re excited to see how Formula Student Driverless evolves as they train the next generation of engineers and leaders in the autonomous mobility space, and are already looking forward to next year’s event.