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Rear-facing radar system keeps race cars from crashing

Fancy suspension setups, powerful brakes, increased downforce, grippier tyres, weight reduction and increasing engine output can all help a car win races, but so can a fancy rear view mirror, it would seem.

The Corvette Pratt & Miller race team recently won the 12 hours of Sebring race, in large part by swapping their ordinary rear view for a computerised version that gives the driver more accurate information about what’s going on behind him.

The system uses a quad-core Intel Core i3-equipped Linux computer of the sort you might find in a (geek’s) living room, although in this case it’s safely locked away in a crash-resistant and watertight aluminium box.

The computer works in conjunction with an off-the-shelf Bosch rear-facing radar system, low-latency camera and a handful of exterior sensors, all of which allow the Corvette C6 to process what’s happening behind it and to relay crucial information to a 7-inch display in the cabin.

Amazingly, the system can track up to 32 racers at once. Algorithms that calculate the trailing car’s speed, rate of acceleration and cornering speed allow it to determine the class of car running behind and which side their rival is likely to be passing on. This allows the ‘vette driver to move out of the way for the faster P1 prototype racers or to hold fort when cars of a similar class are giving chase.

To keep the driver from being bamboozled when he really needs to focus on the track ahead, a series of simple chevron symbols tell the driver what’s going on. Green means the car behind is falling back, while yellow fades to orange then red as an approaching car gets closer. If a P1 racer is on the Corvette’s tail, a strikethrough of the chevron tells the driver to back off.

“So far the drivers really love it,” Chris Hammond, embedded systems engineer for Pratt & Miller, told Wired. “[Driver] Oliver Gavin said it was like having a second set of eyes.”

So far, just the Corvette team uses the technology, but it’s surely just a matter of time before other teams look to implement similar setups.

Check out the system in action below.



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