Automated Driving in Italy’s 1,000 Miglia Rally

This year’s iteration of Italy’s classic-car-oriented Mille Miglia race showcased an audacious nod to the future: an autonomous high-performance Maserati.

The Maserati C20 coupe test mule seen here normally has even more equipment in it, but some was being transferred to the C20 Cielo, the project’s official car for the 2023 1000 Miglia rally. (SAE/Chris Clonts)

It’s not every day that you see a $230,000 supercar with its racy looks obscured by bolted- and glued-on sensors and wiring. But this was Italy, where SAE Media was attending simulator company VI-Grade’s Zero Prototypes Summit. Still, people seeing the Maserati MC20 coupe decked out like this did a double take and exclaimed: “What... is... that?”

Because they didn't want the complexity of integrating with the steering and braking systems, engineers on the project attached physical actuators to the car's control mechanisms. (SAE / Chris Clonts)

Turns out the pricey car is part of a project to autonomously drive the revered 1000 Miglia, a vintage-car rally that spans Italy and its many different types of roads.

The rally in its current form owes its heritage to the original Mille Miglia, an endurance race that ran from 1927 to 1957. It was reincarnated in 1977 to host cars from 1957 and earlier. The car used in the rally, which runs in mid-June every year, was to be a Maserati MC20 Cielo convertible.

Sergio Mateo Savaresi, an electrical engineering professor at Milan Polytechnic University, runs the team that is acting as the systems integrator for the project and said that although the technical challenges were many, the clearing regulatory hurdles presented their own major effort. “Authorization from the EU and especially Italy is quite difficult,” he said. “But we’re using an experimental certificate.

The 2023 1000 Miglia course is 2000 km (1243 miles) from Brescia to Rome and back. Milan Polytechnic’s development “mule” Maserati won’t attempt the entire race route – at least in this, it’s initial attempt. “The challenge is [automated] driving for long periods of time, but most importantly high road diversity,” Savaresi said. “We selected an iconic part of Mille Miglia that crosses Italy on very different roads.”

The car uses cameras and radar provided by Continental, Robosense M1 lidar, and redundant GNSS and IMU systems. The team didn’t want to go into the car’s braking, steering or power-management systems, so instead the prototype Maserati uses actuators that physically actuate the steering wheel, accelerator and brakes. Networking equipment came from Cisco.

Simulation hours donated by VI-Grade allowed the team to test the car on 18,000 km (1,200 miles) of virtual roads in just a few months. That’s because certification called for the team to drive 6,000-km (3,730-mile) stretches in urban, suburban and highway settings, including specific situations including everything from roundabouts to cattle crossings.

Savaresi said the team is shooting for the autonomous project to drive the entire distance of the 2024 event, but that regardless of the outcome, the project has been a good demonstration of the knowledge base of the Italian automotive supply community.