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What Is The Roborace?

  • by: Conor McKeon
  • On: 27, Dec 2018
3 min read

Autonomous technology is moving into every area of transportation: shipping, airplanes, cars, and now even racing.

The Roborace is the world’s first racing championship featuring fully autonomous cars with no human drivers.

Created by Russian serial entrepreneur Denis Sverdlov, Roborace was officially announced in 2015, in partnership with Formula E. Sverdlov believes that the future of cars is electric, and autonomous. By pushing the technology forward in racing, it will become more mainstream, more efficient, and more likely to get widespread adoption.

How Will Roborace Work?

Sverdlov hopes to get ten working cars representing different teams, most likely high power automotive brands like in Formula 1. Powerful AI will be installed in the cars, which will be equipped with sensors to give it a type of awareness in real time as it moves around the track.

There are two radars, used for detecting objects in the distance, and LiDAR, which fires beams of light in multiple directions before using the reflections to work out where surrounding objects are. These are supplemented by 18 ultrasonic sensors used for close-range detection, two speed sensors and six cameras that use machine vision to give a 360° view around the car. There’s also a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), a form of GPS technology.

With Formula One, one of the major criticisms is that the winner is largely determined by who has the best car, not necessarily who is the best driver. With Roborace, the sophistication of the software will make the difference between who wins and who loses.

The sensors will be able to detect what’s around it, with lightning fast reactions as the world around it changes. It makes decisions about when to speed up or overtake based upon the outcome of algorithms, which learn as they go.

In theory, this should mean that the AI in the cars becomes smarter and more flexible as the grand prix goes from race to race. More importantly, it might mean that the cars have some spectacular crashes in the early days of the championship. We’ll see soon enough, with ‘Season Alpha’ set to start as early as next year.

Currently it’s believed that there will in fact be human drivers for one part of the race, and then full autonomy for the other. The ‘full release’ is slated for a 2021 launch, which will feature the robocar, designed with no cockpit. Rumored to have 1000kw of power thanks to its four electric motors. It costs £750,000 to build, with the AI system costing an extra £250,000.

The races will be held on the same city-based tracks as Formula E, meaning they’ll be accessible to a wider array of fans. But how long will they stay interested?

How Will Roborace Stay Exciting?

The initial novelty of the race has mass appeal, with videos of the cars in action racking up hundreds of thousands of views. The real challenge is keeping it appealing and entertaining to watch. Roborace will almost certainly have the resources to do this, with some 200 companies currently lining up for sponsorships, partnerships, and merchandise deals.

But how can they make sure to keep fans engaged? 

Make The Cars Faster

One way the race could set itself apart from others it to run the cars faster than in any other racing league. Without drivers, in theory the cars could drive at much higher speed, making the races more dynamic and attention grabbing.

Make Races Interactive

It could take a leaf out of formula E’s book, which utilises a voting system to award a speed boost to one of the drivers. The obvious difference is that in Formula E people are voting for their favourite driver, whereas in the Roborace they’d be voting for their favourite AI.

Give Them Weapons

Arguably the one thing missing from conventional racing is large amounts of high calibre weapons and explosives. As more and more weapons systems become controlled by AI, it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility we could one day see some mounted on a robot car, shooting other robot cars for our enjoyment. Probably not though. But maybe. 

Learn the skills you’ll need to work with autonomous vehicles, or read about how car design has changed.

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