We know autonomous cars are coming sooner than expected. But could anyone have expected them to hit the racetracks this year?
At this week’s Mobile World Congress which is currently taking place in Barcelona, the Roborace star vehicle, designed to be raced using just computers, was shown off to an audience. The car resembles something straight out of a high-budget sci-fi movie, according to Wired. And that should come as no surprise. Car designer Daniel Simon has worked on vehicles for movies like Prometheus, Captain America, and Tron: Legacy. He’s also spent time with VW, Audi, Bentley, and Bugatti.
“The real-life, race-ready Robocar resembles a crouching insect, ready to leap. The center of the body is just a narrow spine (no cockpit) and the four wheels (some things don’t change) are tucked inside huge aerodynamic scoops,” says Wired.
CEO Denis Sverdlov displayed the vehicle proudly at the launch, speaking of its involvement in advancing driverless electric technology.
“I am so proud of the entire team and our partners and particularly the work Daniel has done creating this beautiful machine. 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,” Sverdlov said.
“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.”
Let’s be clear on this, the autonomous cars are not controlled by remote control. Software engineers create an artificial intelligence algorithm for each race. Once this is placed into the car, the software engineers no longer have any control over the cars.
Fans were able to get a sneak peek at the vehicle about two weeks ago at an autonomous race when Roborace sent two autonomous cars out onto the track in Buenos Aires. The race was a success with both cars dodging a dog which darted out onto the track. Unfortunately, one of the cars then crashed into a wall. But, says chief marketing officer Justin Cooke: “We don’t learn as much when we do perfect runs.”
Roborace plans to bring driverless electric technology to Formula E circuits in 2017 as well as one-off events in global cities worldwide. Formula E, for anyone who’s curious, is a new all-electric race series now in its third iteration.
Not just an organizer of an autonomous motorsport series, Roborace is currently working on a vehicle known as DevBot. According to Roborace: “The primary purpose of the DevBot is to allow teams to develop their software and experience the hardware that will be used on the ‘Robocar’.
“Unlike the Robocar, the DevBot has a cabin that can be driven by a human or a computer allowing teams to fully understand how the car thinks and feels on a racetrack alongside the comprehensive real-time data.”
The Robocar is built from carbon fiber and weighs 2,149 lbs. At 189 inches long and 79 inches wide, it’s smaller than the average Formula One race car. Its sensors, an important element of any self-driving vehicle, include five lidars, two radars, 18 ultrasonic sensors, two optical speed sensors and six cameras.
It uses 360-degree situational awareness to work out where it and its competitors are on the track. The car is expected to reach top speeds of about 200 mph.
To read more about when we can expect autonomous cars to hit the road (it could be as early as this year!), read our recent article. It speaks about Elon Musk’s pledge to have a self-driving car make its way across the US before the end of 2017.