Since the beginning of motorsport in the 1950s, the art of racing cars at the edge of their limits has captured the imagination of millions of people. Wheel-to-wheel battles at 200 mph between supremely talented drivers like Senna and Prost, or Hamilton and Vettel are examples of the courage and skills required by humans to master machines with over 800-horsepower.
Cars have been a major part of our lives both through their functional transportation value and the thrilling entertainment of motorsport. But in the last few years, the automotive industry has been undergoing a fundamental shift away from human skills, thanks to the disruptive technology of artificial intelligence. A variety of driving aids has already been incorporated into the latest generation cars, and auto manufacturers and Google are racing to develop self-driving cars that will entirely replace human skills. And now, a partnership between investment company Kinetic and Formula E promises to transform motorsport forever too. In 2016, Kinetic and Formula E will launch a new world championship, called ROBORACE, for electric self-driving racecars, which could reach speeds of 190 mph!
The historic battles between racecar drivers could be replaced by battles between “artificially intelligent drivers” developed by world-class software engineers. Maybe ROBORACE is the first glimpse into the society of tomorrow.
The ROBORACE championship will take place as support race to the already popular Formula E, which is an electric racecar competition that features the participation of world-class drivers. 10 teams, including a crowd-funded team, will each field 2 racecars, and compete in 1-hour long races on tracks around the world. Each team will use identical electric cars, but the teams will be allowed to develop their own computer algorithms and artificial intelligence.
Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E, said: “We are very excited to be partnering with Kinetik on what is surely one of the most cutting-edge sporting events in history. ROBORACE is an open challenge to the most innovative scientific and technology-focused companies in the world. It is very exciting to create a platform for them to showcase what they are capable of and I believe there is great potential for us to unearth the next big idea through the unique crowd-sourced contest.”
Audi’s Self-Driving Racecar TestLast year, Audi showcased the advances in its self-driving technologies by demonstrating how an RS7 could complete a lap of the Hockenheim Formula 1 track without any driver onboard. The 560-horsepower RS7, nicknamed “Bobby”, lapped the 17-turn track with impressive precision and reached a top speed of 149 mph. The driverless car completed the lap in 2 minutes and 10 seconds, which is about 30 seconds slower than the times posted by professional racecar drivers in the DTM races. “We wanted to come close to matching the speed, precision, and vehicle control of a professional racer,” says project manager Peter Bergmiller. Of course, driving around an empty racetrack is a much simpler task than racing other cars. However, this test was an impressive demonstration of what computer algorithms can already achieve.
Advances in Self-Driving TechnologyThe new ROBORACE championship will significantly raise the technical requirements of artificial intelligence because it will place 20 self-driving racecars into the same track at top speeds of 190 mph. The challenge will be for each car’s computer algorithms not only to figure out how to drive fast around the track, but most importantly, how to deal with the huge elements of unpredictability and improvisation required when interacting with 19 other cars, all of which want to finish first. Dealing with unpredictability is the key for commercially safe self-driving solutions, which need to master a wide range of unpredictable situations, including cyclists, pedestrians, variable weather, and human drivers.
“There are certain problems you have to solve at these high speeds that could improve performance at low speeds,” says John Dolan, who studies autonomous technology at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. One of those is reducing latency—the time it takes the computer to process the data coming from a sensor and transmit instructions to various systems. “At 180 mph, you’re gonna have to do that faster,” Dolan says. Reducing the software’s latency in racing situations will create more robust systems for all self-driving cars.
ROBORACE “is a great place to experiment and showcase new ideas and bring them to the attention of the world in a controlled environment where people can gain confidence that they are safe," said Team Aguri Formula E boss Mark Preston. "I am sure that the fans will be intrigued by this entirely new form of motorsport, which should provide an exciting spectacle.”
Denis Sverdlov, Founder of Kinetik and ROBORACE, said: “We passionately believe that, in the future, all of the world’s vehicles will be assisted by AI and powered by electricity, thus improving the environment and road safety. ROBORACE is a celebration of revolutionary technology and innovation that humanity has achieved in that area so far. It’s a global platform to show that robotic technologies and AI can co-exist with us in real life. Thus, anyone who is at the edge of this transformation now has a platform to show the advantages of their driverless solutions and this shall push the development of the technology.”