If there was ever a car capable of giving some elbow, it’s the fantastic Robocar. It’s the brainchild of California-based automotive designer Daniel Simon who has already worked for a host of carmakers, including Audi and Bugatti, and created futuristic vehicles for Hollywood movies such as Tron: Legacy, Oblivion and Star Wars VIII. The sci-fi influences are unmistakable in the Robocar. With its low-slung posture, it oozes pure power and an eerie, almost extraterrestrial intelligence. “For over a century, people have sat behind the wheel of a car,” says Simon. “That’s why it’s so important for Robocar to stir feelings and elicit an emotional response.” But it’s not just the car’s design that is compelling—so
is its technology. One of the highlights is its innovative carbon-fiber monocoque with racecar suspension, which was designed in-house. The battery generates a maximum output of up to 655 kilowatts (almost 900 horsepower). Considering its weight of roughly 1,000 kilograms, that gives the vehicle a top speed of about 300 kilometers per hour. An electric motor is fitted to each of the four wheels so that the torque vectoring effect ensures better grip and improved stability. The system is comparable with the e-quattro technology that Audi has developed in recent years. As a result, the Robocar can produce a variable torque output of up to 300 newton-meters at each wheel, which helps the car achieve lap times that are currently two seconds faster than those of a Formula E racing car.
While work on the Robocar hasn’t yet concluded, the hardware is almost done. Despite that, developing the software, which allows the car to detect and analyze its environment at lightning speed, remains a major challenge for the Roborace team. “We’re constantly working on evolving the software and testing the vehicle,” reports Bryn Balcombe. “But because the Robocar has to move, we depend on cameras, GPS, lidar and ultrasonic sensors—of which new models are forever coming onto the market.” Nevertheless, when the team watches the car flying over the Upper Heyford airfield test track at full throttle, many of their struggles are forgotten. “Seeing the Robocar driving autonomously at 200 kilometers per hour—it’s just incredible,” admits Balcombe. What would be even more incredible is several Robocars maxing the speedo and competing against each other on the circuit. “Just imagine we had an AI drivers’ championship and a constructors’ championship with maybe two Robocars from the same team vying for the driver’s title. Remember how exciting that made Formula 1 over the years?” What will happen on the final lap of the drivers’ championship when two Robocars from the same team with an identical number of points on the board enter a corner from opposite directions at 250 kilometers per hour? “At some point, we might want to send commands to the cars from the pits or even orders to the whole team,” enthuses Balcombe. But just as with racing drivers, the Robocar’s artificial intelligence may not necessarily heed those instructions.