On May 28th and 29th, Thunderhill Park, a regional race course just north of Sacramento, California made a tiny bit of history. It played host to the world’s first trackday for autonomous vehicles. None of the big names in the business were in attendance – no one from Google or Tesla, or even Uber showed up. Instead, it was all hackers and upstarts, giving the atmosphere of the paddock something closer to a makerspace or homebrew computer club.
A trackday is traditionally an event for motorsports enthusiasts. It’s a day where you can sign up to drive your own car or motorcycle on a closed course as quickly as you want, free from the constraint of highway use laws. They’re often used to test out equipment, but also as an opportunity to hone driver skills, and build community. The Autonomous trackday was very much the same, but the drivers refining their skills were all robotic.
Joshua Schachter, the event’s organizer, is trying to bring a lot of smart people together with the intent of bringing the cost of developing driverless cars from the realm of millions and hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. Others, like Eli Richter of the Power Racing Series can’t wait to see an all autonomous racing series, just to see the speeds that the cars will be able to achieve.