Google and Volvo‘s self-driving cars have been making headlines with the number of miles they’ve driven without a traditional driver at the wheel. Now Stanford’s Dynamic Design Lab has teamed up with Volkswagen’s Electronics Research Lab to create a self-driving Audi TTS named Shelly – and it just hit 120 mph on a racetrack! Unlike Google’s Toyota Prius or the long-distance self-driving cars from Volvo, Stanford’s Audi TTS focuses its attention on all-out-speed.

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The Audi TTS recently hit the track at Thunderhill Raceway, north of Sacramento, California where it was able to reach a speed of 120 mph. The Audi also managed to lap the 3-mile course in less than 2-1/2 minutes, which is a time that’s pretty close to those posted by professional drivers. Stanford’s Dynamic Design Lab brought the Audi TTS to the track to further tweak her responses, like when to brake, how tight to take turns, and when to punch the gas. Currently humans are still a bit faster around the track than the self-driving Audi TTS.

“Human drivers are very, very smooth,” mechanical engineering Associate Professor Chris Gerdes said. Shelley computes the fastest line around a course and executes the exact corrections required to stick to it. A person relies more on feel and intuition, and thus may, for example, allow the car to swing too wide in one turn if he knows it sets him up better for the next.”

Gerdes and the Dynamic Design Lab are now focusing their attention on human race car drivers to figure out exactly what makes them so successful. Even though its highly unlikely that future autonomous cars will need to reach speeds over 100 mph, the research will further pave the way for standard cars that are able to maneuver their drivers out of harms way.

+ Stanford Dynamic Design Lab