Earlier this month, a group of nine self-driving cars raced a 3.2 kilometer (2 mile) track in Northern California. Four of the nine completed the course without human help. In first place was “Point One” with a time of 3 minutes and 37.9 seconds.

The competitors included students and entrepreneurs from small start-up companies who wanted to test their technologies in this large-scale laboratory. While they did time each “race”, according to Jack Loughran in his article in this month's E&T magazine “the real goal was just to make it around the track rather than to win.”

The cars raced at the Thunderhill West race course, located north of San Francisco in Willows, California off the I-5. They raced one at a time and had a human driver onboard in case they needed to intervene.

Some of the cars used GPS and other location tracking to follow digital maps to steer around the course. This was the case for the unofficial winner “Point One”. Other cars were taught how to drive “on the fly” by artificial intelligence systems, including a car owned by a software company called PolySync. While these cars had some success, they often needed a human driver to take the wheel in order to keep them on the road.  

One self-driving car enthusiast spoke with the Point One and PolySync teams at this month’s race, posting his video online (see 1:01 for the Point One and 1:38 for the PolySync car).