Driving robots perform NASCAR crash test on track

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The UK’s AB Dynamics has partnered with NASCAR to conduct a driverless track crash test of its Next Gen race car running in the 2022 Cup Series.

The test vehicle was driven at high speed to a pre-programmed course by driving robots into the banking wall at Talladega Superspeedway motorsports complex in Alabama.

The aim was to test the safety of the vehicle and the impact on the driver in this type of accident, which occurs often in the series. The race car was fitted with sensors and a crash test dummy to create data for NASCAR’s crash simulation validation.

In a statement, Craig Hoyt, AB Dynamics business development manager said: “The challenge was trying to get this extremely complex machine to do a very precise test without a human driver piloting the car.

“A major hurdle NASCAR faced was finding a crash test facility which could conduct such high-speed crash testing. AB Dynamics robots allowed NASCAR to use a fully running race car and conduct the test at a real race track, at real race speeds.”

The test required the car to drive at 130mph to a precise impact point into the SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barrier, colliding with it at a 24 degree angle.

To control the vehicle’s speed and direction it was fitted with steering, shifting and pedal (throttle, brake and clutch) robots. The inputs to the robots were provided by AB Dynamics’ path following software, which can use pre-recorded driving information and geometric GPS data to navigate a predetermined route.

According to Wiltshire-based AB Dynamics, this package ensured the vehicle was positioned to within 2cm of the impact point, hitting the wall at 130.015mph and within one degree of the prescribed angle.

“This is one of the highest speed crash tests we have ever conducted and the robots only suffered minor damage,” said Hoyt. “It really is a testament to the safety of the vehicle, the barriers and the ruggedness of our products.”

“The data we obtained from the test was extremely important and was not possible to get from any crash test facilities at the time,” said John Patalak, managing director, safety engineering of NASCAR. “The test provided valuable information for correlation with our computer crash simulations and confirmed that the predicted vehicle impact performance from the simulation was duplicated in this real-world crash test.”

The test, conducted in October 2021, used AB Dynamics’ SR60 robot for steering, CBAR600 for pedals and the company’s Gearshift Robot.