Roborace is a category in development, when complete we’ll see a grid of cars racing without human drivers. Instead the cars will be driven by the programmers who’ve developed video-game like AI to control vehicles and ultimate fight for first place at the end of the race. Roborace is to autonomous cars what Formula E is to electric cars, its designed to accelerate the development of the technology, pushing it to the extreme, finding issues and breaking through them.
Human drivers will take different trajectories through a corner based on their personal preferences as well as strengths and weaknesses of their vehicle. Without a driver, vehicles are left to take the optimal line every lap, that is of course until they encounter random things inherit in racing. The vehicles need to understand their environment and adapt to an ever changing condition.
Overnight two test mules were driven around a Formula E race track in Buenos Aires, Argentina, ahead of the latest round of the ePrix. Last time we seen the development vehicles on track it was largely a test of the technology to see if would work at all. This time the focus was on real racing conditions and outright speed. With slightly different programming on-board the cars behaved slightly differently, but the astonishing thing was the top speed.
Roborace DevBot 1 achieved a top speed of 186kph. This is much faster that you travel in your road car and while still a long way off the top speed of categories like F1, Australian GT and Supercars, with more development, that gap will close. While there’s certainly more computers on-board, there’s also no driver weight which means as the technology develops, in theory these cars could be faster than all other categories. Kinetik, the developer of these electric cars, expects the cars to be capable of reaching top speeds of more than 300 km/h.
In racing, things can and do go wrong.
There’ll have to be further investigation before the reason for the crash is established, but during the development phase of the programming, these things are expected. Given they’re using the Formula E tracks to test, all the standard FIA regulations for safety are in place.
Possibly more impressive than the outright speed is the cars ability to deal with a random incident like a dog running on to the track. While big questions should be asked about how this was allowed to happen, Australian racing has seen their fair share of random incidents and animals have certainly been part of that. Importantly these cars constantly scan their environment multiple times per second issue appropriate commands to maneuver the vehicle around random obstacles like this, or debris on the road.
This is definitely one of the most interesting forms of motorsport developing before our eyes. Better yet, this category will not only be exciting to watch from a typical motorsport, who’s going to win point of view, but also which teams have the best programmers. Engineers are the celebrities of the future.