Editorial: Let’s make autonomous car challenge a catalyst for innovation in Indianapolis

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The Indy Autonomous Challenge—set to take place Oct. 23 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway—will not fill the stands at the iconic racetrack. Not even close.

It won’t crowd hotel rooms and restaurants across the region.

And there won’t be the kind of multi-million-dollar direct economic impact on Speedway and Indianapolis that we’ve come to expect from the big events that take place at IMS.

But make no mistake, the Indy Autonomous Challenge is a big event—one that advances the Speedway’s reputation as a place where innovation happens and helps build the city’s credibility as technology hub.

Consider that the 10 teams participating in the final challenge represent 21 schools and nine countries, although dozens more universities took part in the process initially before the teams were whittled down after a series of events building to the Oct. 23 challenge.

Or that leaders in the autonomous vehicle industry—including household names like Cisco and Microsoft, as well as specialists like Dublin-based Aptive, Munich-based Luminar and Stockholm-based Hexagon AB—also will be on hand for a summit hosted by the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

“There is very much a roster of global talent that happens to be coalescing here in Indiana,” Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of Energy Systems Network, told IBJ reporter Mickey Shuey for a Page 1 story this week.

Energy Systems Network is the organizer of the Indy Autonomous Challenge. It’s a behind-the-scenes organization that launched out of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ office in 2009 and eventually moved to the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, where it has become an innovator in energy and transportation.

ESN was the catalyst not only for the Indy Autonomous Challenge but also the adoption of electric buses by IndyGo, the now-shuttered BlueIndy electric car sharing program and The Battery Innovation Center outside Crane Naval Base. The latter works to promote rapid development, testing and commercialization of energy storage systems in national defense and private industry.

Now, ESN is putting Indianapolis at centerstage—at least momentarily—in the rapidly developing autonomous technology sector. And the hope is that state and local leaders can figure out how to make the event more than a one-time showpiece.

“Our job is to figure out how we take advantage” of the opportunity, Mitchell acknowledged. “How do we ensure that this isn’t just a one-off event that happens and then the train leaves the station or the circus leaves town?”

It helps that Purdue University and IUPUI have students and researchers who are participating. And that students and researchers from across the U.S. and other parts of the world will be on hand.

Those students are the industry’s next leaders and their experience in Indianapolis could put the city on their mental map as they consider their futures.

That’s a good start. But we urge state leaders to think of the Indy Autonomous Challenge as a starting point, not a one-and-done event. We look forward to seeing what’s next.•


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One thought on “Editorial: Let’s make autonomous car challenge a catalyst for innovation in Indianapolis

  1. I’m involved in the electric industry. What seems inevitable is that in time all major urban centers, and perhaps major highways, will transition to automation. That is, you may drive your car manually to the city and/or highway, but once you get to a certain point you’ll have to surrender control to a traffic system to which you will provide your destination and it will then take control of your vehicle and optimize it along with all other vehicles to get you where you need to go. There are major potential privacy issues with this, but the promise of lower overall energy usage and reduced congestion that can result from such an optimized system is likely to overwhelm this concern (and, of course, we could make it so that individual car data is anonymized and deleted after a certain time period if we really wanted to protect individual privacy).

    The question is how quickly will this happen? Definitely more than 10 years away I would say, but what about 30 years?? Hard to predict.