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Self-driving cars get their own motorsport event

By raccars Published

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The world of motorsport is about to become autonomous thanks to the creation of a competition specifically for self-driving cars.

Autonomous cars may be a few years away from hitting public roads, but they are set to start taking over in the world of motorsport in 2016 following the announcement of Roborace. This is a competition which will see self-driving cars pitted against one another on the track. This has come about as an evolution of the FIA’s all-electric Formula E racing league, with the help of investment from Kinetik, according to AutoExpress. And when Roborace kicks off next autumn, it will be a watershed moment in the world of motorsport.

Formula E spokesperson Alejandro Agag was on hand to help launch Roborace last week in London. He pointed out that this series would help to reflect the fact that autonomous, electric vehicles were the future of the car market as a whole. And the lack of a driver will be just one of the ways in which this project is set to be a departure from other forms of motorsport.

Software supremacy

Organisers are expecting to attract a total of 10 teams to participate in the first Roborace series. And crucially each one will be supplied with a pair of cars which are identical from a technical perspective, thereby keeping the playing field as level as possible when it comes to the hardware. So the real competition will be about which team can create the most comprehensive and effective software to take advantage of the self-driving capabilities of the cars at their disposal.

The fact that the cars will be supplied to the participating teams has the added benefit that almost any company is theoretically eligible to compete. And Roborace will not only set out to grab the attention of some of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers and software firms, but will also leave one team slot open to encourage stand-alone developers to become involved in the process. This means that individuals who have developed their own autonomous driving software will have a chance to show off their talents on the world stage and, in so doing, potentially outdo established players with substantial budgets.

Agag was quick to point out that Google, Apple and others have been shown to be working on self-driving car technology, so Roborace will not be the exclusive preserve of mainstream car manufacturers. Clearly it is a little early to predict the precise balance of the teams that will be involved and more should become clear over the course of the next year in the run-up to the start of the series itself.

Electric underpinnings

In keeping with the rules of Formula E, the vehicles involved in Roborace will be powered by electric motors rather than traditional combustion engines. And the fact that they will be completely driverless will apparently not change the size of the cars nor the scale of the races in which they will participate. Organisers are intending to update the designs so that these autonomous vehicles look as futuristic as possible, although again it would seem that potential fans will have to wait for the designs to be finalised before any images emerge.

With no driver on board, observers are predicting that these electric vehicles will be able to go faster and cover more ground before recharging than their human-controlled equivalents in Formula E. So there are clearly performance benefits to going the autonomous route.

Regardless as to the final details, one thing is clear. In the second half of 2016, we will be witnessing the dawning of a new era in motorsport.

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