Meet Robocar, the autonomous racer set to hit the track next year
Question: how far do you have to look into a crystal ball until driverless race cars are a reality? Answer: you don’t have to look into a crystal ball at all. You just need to look at the pictures on this very screen, as that ladies and gents, is the autonomous driverless race car of the future. And it’s here. Right now. And very much a thing.
It’s called the Robocar. The world’s first driverless race car set to compete against a grid of other identical Robocars in an all-electric racing series set to support next year’s Formula E championship.
Designed by Daniel Simon – he of penning many super cool sci-fi cars for Hollywood – it’s the production iteration of the upcoming ePrix robot cars headed up by Roborace.
This is the latest step following months of intensive testing. The previous leap was last week, when autonomous electric racing took a giant step closer to reality when, for the first time ever, two of Roborace’s prototype autonomous race cars ran against each other on track at Buenos Aires.
One also crashed. But that’s what happens in racing. And even though the freaky robot car did decide to head-butt a wall, it very much showed that it’s something that should be taken seriously.
The sleek cabin-less, high-downforce production racer is an evolution from Daniel Simon’s previous designs, incorporates some very clever tech and makes the new generation of Formula One cars look a bit ‘meh’.
Weighing in at 975kg, the carbon fibre prototype is 4.8m long and 2m wide – all very much race car proportions. Powering it are four electric motors (chucking out 300kW) each and a 540kW battery that Roborace claim is a good enough package to get the Robocar to 322kph while running on Michelin road tyres. That’s impressive in itself. But what makes it more so is that there’s no one on board driving it.
See, normally the ‘brain’ of a race car is the fleshy bag of bones and organs: the human race car driver. But the ‘brain’ of the Robocar is not a person. It is NVIDIA DRIVE PX 2, a digital brain capable of up to 24 trillion A.I. operations per second that works in conjunction with five lidars (light detection and ranging system), two radars, 18 ultrasonic sensors, two optical speed sensors, six AI cameras, and GNSS positioning to get around the Formula E tracks without smashing into each other or the local scenery.
The racing element comes from teams programming their identical cars with different software and algorithms to ‘drive’ differently and make them the quickest on track. A race will consist of ten teams all running two cars each and last around an hour.
“This is a huge moment for Roborace as we share the Robocar with the world and take another big step in advancing driverless electric technology,” Roborace CEO Denis Sverdlov, said at the launch of the car at the Mobile World Congress. “It was very important for us that we created an emotional connection to driverless cars and bring humans and robots closer together to define our future. The progress with Devbot on track and building the Robocar in less than a year has been extraordinary and we cannot wait to continue the journey of learning with the Robocar.”
We have to admit, bringing robots and humans together under the banner of racing sounds a bit, er, Terminator-y. But either way, Roboracer’s progress since first showing us an initial design a year ago has been phenomenal. And even though we’re fans of humans going wheel-to-wheel, we’re very interested in how this is going to pan out. You can’t deny that a grid of these bashing their way around city circuits will look cool. Especially if you grew up on a diet of playing Wipeout on the Playstation.