Start your engines: Cisco tech powers driverless race car demonstration

With the help of Cisco technologies, the DTM Electric Demo car will run a driverless lap at Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria. (Cisco Systems, DTM, Schaeffler Group, Riedel Networks)

Cisco Systems is about to become the envy of every kid on your block: This weekend, the company and its SD-WAN and edge networking technologies will support a demonstration of a driverless electric race car racing a lap at a course in Spielberg, Austria. 

The car will be controlled remotely by a driver located more than 40 miles away in Graz, Austria. Generations of kids who have enjoyed guiding a remote control toy car around their parents’ kitchen and through the legs of a frantically-barking pet dog to safely park it under the dining room table can surely relate.

In this case, the car is full-size -- the DTM Electric Demo Car; the track is real -- Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring; and the driver with the remote control in his hands is a champion -- Tim Heinemann, winner of the 2020 DTM Trophy racing series. The DTM Electric Remote Run, organized by DTM and German automotive manufacturer Schaeffler Group, is the latest proof point event for the car, and will call for Heinemann to remotely guide the car around the track at speeds of over 200 km per hour.

To make the Remote Run happen, the organizers teamed with network services provider Riedel Networks, which engineered the communications architecture to control the race car using Cisco’s SD-WAN and Catalyst 8300 Edge platform for the primary connection with a direct fiber over MPLS link, according to a Cisco blog post.  

At 200 kph (around 124 mph), “20 milliseconds of latency in the connection translates to a meter traveled. The round-trip time between the simulator driver in Graz and the car on the Red Bull Ring track is only 2ms for the WAN and about 5ms for the radio network. That’s very close to the speed of light,” the blog post stated.

The Catalyst 8300’s multicore architecture and hardware-accelerated encryption capabilities provide a secure, high-performance, and reliable connection, with carrier-grade (99,999%) availability required between the car and the remote driving simulator, according to Cisco.

The blog post further stated, “Running a car that has over 1000 fully electrified horsepower with no one on board, you still need a backup plan in the rare event the MPLS link goes down. With the exceptional speed of 5G, the architecture was designed to include a redundant backup connection using Cisco’s Catalyst Cellular Gateways. In this case, 5G over SD-WAN will become the primary transport with multigigabit connectivity at up to 3.3 Gbps.”

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Cisco’s SD-WAN will help the Riedel network to not only support the remote steering link, but also video feeds from the car to the driver and from the driver to the pitman at the racetrack, as well as intercom communications.

All in all, the architecture sounds much more reliable than those that have resulted in broken headlights on toy RC cars and scratched dining room table legs in households worldwide, incidents in which driver error was most often to blame.