The idea of autonomous racing made its debut at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed. A fully autonomous race car successfully navigated the 1.16-mile hill climb course amid the amazement of thousands of spectators. The vehicle, developed by Roborace and powered by Arrival’s AI software, became the first driverless vehicle to complete the hill climb challenge at the historic circuit.

After this remarkable milestone, Roborace is at it again this year with what they’re calling Season Alpha. This is a series of competitive events in a variety of race formats including time trials, circuit racing, hill climbs, human Vs machine, night racing, and sprints. The events will take place in parts of Europe (the UK, Italy, and Hungary) and the United States.

About the race cars

The car being used in Season Alpha is called the DevBot 2.0, the latest development from Roborace. The vehicle is equipped with both human and autonomous controls. The autonomous mode runs on the NVidia DRIVE platform.

The DevBot hits all the critical marks of both a race car and an autonomous vehicle. It’s powered by two electric motors generating a total of 362HP, which take it to a maximum speed of 135mph. The vehicle’s sleek body is designed for low-drag and downforce. Autonomous driving is aided by a 360° radar system, two GPRS antennas, an ultrasonic system, and a pair of cameras for depth perception.

How the racing works

Roborace provides the vehicles, and the competitors provide the AI software that powers the car. All vehicles are identical, so the results of any race depend solely on the AI’s abilities and efficiency.

The competitors are not allowed to control the vehicles once the race begins. However, for safety reasons, the pits’ control personnel can shut down any race car in case of an emergency. Each vehicle can also shut itself down in the event of hardware or software failure.

At the start of a race, each car is fed a map of the course outline. It’s up to the AI software to find the optimum racing line and speed while maintaining certain levels of energy efficiency.

Does autonomous racing have a future in Motorsport?

Currently, Roborace is the only sole pioneer of autonomous car racing that has made a mark in the industry. The only event that comes close to this is Formula-E. Roborace insists that their main goal is to grow autonomous technology through racing.

As a motorsport event, autonomous racing shifts the attention to software developers and the pits’ crew – these are the unsung heroes in motorsport. However, for this to work, the races have to be entertaining enough to win over the hearts of spectators. The human factor and the element of fear are what makes motorsport exhilarating, and without that, betting on autonomous racing is a huge gamble.

Photo: ÖMS-SP8 (60) by Schwarz Johann licensed under Creative Commons 4.0