The first racing series for autonomous vehicles, Roborace is about so much more than just showcasing the latest digital technology. It opens the door to the future of the automobile.
No human sits behind the wheel
Roborace rests on three developmental pillars—electric mobility, networking technologies and autonomous driving.
While Roborace will never replace motorsport, we still need a racing series to push the technological envelope as regards autonomous driving, networking and electric drives.
When it comes to the different software sets for autonomous driving, Balcombe is confident that they will produce very diverse driving styles. “The software system’s performance varies, above all because machine learning plays a role here. Although we are all bound by the same rules, people, too, have different driving styles. It’s the same with artificially intelligent cars. I believe that carmakers are going to develop their brand identities far beyond vehicle shape and design.”
You’d think that a world of autonomous driving would send shivers down the spines of people like Lucas di Grassi who earn their living as a racing driver. But the Brazilian, Formula E Audi driver and reigning world champion, has a different take: “While Roborace will never replace motorsport, we still need a racing series to push the technological envelope as regards autonomous driving, networking and electric drives.” Fully convinced of the autonomous racing series’ potential, Lucas di Grassi has accepted the post as Roborace CEO. Doesn’t that amount to something of a betrayal of motorsport’s die-hard fans? “Not at all. People today still get excited about horse racing even though it’s been a long time since we used horses to get from A to B. I also doubt that anyone has stopped playing chess just because the supercomputer Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in New York in 1997. So why should we turn our backs on motorsport just because racing cars piloted by artificial intelligence can go faster than with a human driver?”
When AI cars are legally approved for use on public roads, most other vehicles will still be driven by people.
Yet countless hours of work still lie ahead before humanity can reap the many benefits of autonomous machines. No one knows this better than Roborace vehicle science engineer Teena Gade from the UK. At a very young age, both Teena and her sister Leena, who is a racing engineer and helped Audi Sport to victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, developed a passion for motorsport and science. Following stints on the Subaru World Rally team and Williams F1 team, Teena is now responsible for the Roborace simulation program. “There are already cars capable of staying within lane markings on highways without human intervention. But we need to develop tomorrow’s AI cars so that they can also deal with borderline cases,” says Teena Gade. “How does an AI car respond to an unexpected obstacle on the racetrack? Using a simulator, we need to put the Robocar through scenarios in order to train it to respond appropriately to situations.” Gade knows these are the same challenges that autonomous vehicles will also face in day-to-day traffic: “When AI cars are legally approved for use on public roads, most other vehicles will still be driven by people. Other road users will soon notice the AI car, but they are not going to take things slower in the morning rush hour just to considerately let an autonomous vehicle into a rotary. We’ll have to put the AI car through its paces to ensure that it moves briskly with the flow of traffic and perhaps even occasionally, metaphorically speaking, can elbow its way in.”
Facts and figures
Seeing the Robocar driving autonomously at 200 kilometers per hour—it’s just incredible.