#FormulaUSI - ready, steady, go!

Institutional Communication Service

15 November 2021

The first edition of #FormulaUSI, the team challenge organised by the USI Software Institute, took place on November 7 in the Aula Polivalente at the Lugano East Campus, where nine teams of young students and computer scientists built, programmed and raced scaled self-driving cars on a bespoke track. The challenge was won by the "DonkeyCorns" team, formed by visiting PhD students at USI.

The #FormulaUSI challenge, which was held at the Lugano East Campus over the weekend of November 5 to 7, consisted of programming 1:16 scale car, based on the Donkey Car project, to drive, autonomously, on a track at the highest possible speed using artificial intelligence. There were three main phases to the event: warm-up on Friday afternoon (i.e. assembling the cars and inspecting the test track), programming and testing on the test track on Saturday, and finally the race on Sunday, during which each of the nine teams - including one from Leiden University in the Netherlands - had three five-minute attempts to race their car in the shortest possible time. The winner was "DonkeyCorns", a team made up of visiting PhD students from foreign universities (Italy and Spain), whose car clocked in at 9,061 seconds, winning the first prize of 3.000 francs. The runner up was the team "K.I.T.T.", formed by USI Master's students, with a time of 9,400 seconds and the prize of 1.500 francs; "Black King", the team of USI Bachelor's students, came in third, with a time of 10,057 seconds and a prize of 500 francs.

At the end of the race, and before the awards ceremony, #FormulaUSI offered participants and the audience keynotes by Ilya Shimchik, Team Principal at Acronis SIT Autonomous (Schaffhausen-based team specialising in races with self-driving vehicles), and Christian Eggenberger-Wang, Business Unit Technical Leader at IBM, followed by a round table discussion featuring, among others, the Ticino driver Alex Fontana.

"#FormulaUSI was not only a competition for computer programming specialists, but also an opportunity to bring the public closer to the topics of autonomous driving and artificial intelligence. This was emphasized by the many people, including families, who came in large numbers to the East Campus both during the trials on Saturday and the race on Sunday", says Andrea Stocco, post-doctoral researcher at USI and creator of the event. "This kind of initiative is important not only to bring students closer to the technologies of the future, but also to help the public understand the advantages, difficulties and challenges of autonomous driving".

"A great result of #FormulaUSI is that all teams managed to get their cars to do more than one complete lap of the track autonomously", says Mauro Prevostini, Program manager at the USI Faculty of Informatics. "We were also pleased to see that the team of students from the Lugano Liceo 2, despite their limited computer skills compared to other university participants, managed to complete the challenge compete and finish only a handful of seconds behind the winners."

"After other successful events organized by the Software Institute at the West Campus, such as USI Hackathon, #FormulaUSI is the first event we are organizing with the new USI/SUPSI East Campus infrastructure, which has proven to be very good. In organizing such an event, a large number of people are involved: participants, speakers, logistics, partners, vendors, and caterers. My role was to act as a 'bridge' between all these players and I am very pleased with the result. Now we just need to oil the wheels to do even better in the next edition!" says Roberto Minelli, Academic Coordinator of the Software Institute. 

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#FormulaUSI - the race