Innovations: The non-human race

Words: Heri Irawan

Meet the Robocar, the world’s first driverless racing car in a sport where humans are mere spectators.
Daniel Simon
Daniel Simon, 41

© Roborace Ltd / Daniel Simon LLC


Daniel Simon & Justin Cooke

Want to see the future? Daniel Simon can show you. The German automotive concept designer envisioned the Light Cycles for Tron: Legacy and the Bubbleships in Oblivion, which made him the go-to person when Justin Cooke and the Kinetik team needed a new kind of car for what could be the future of motorsports. Roborace is about to begin.

Justin Cooke
Justin Cooke

THE RED BULLETIN: What is Roborace?

JUSTIN COOKE: “It’s the world’s first driverless electric racing competition, with self-driving racing cars similar in size to those in F1. Inside is a brain—the Nvidia Drive PX-2—capable of trillions of operations per second, and each competing team has to program it. We’re giving them a blank canvas, and the only competitive advantage is their code, making it a truly level playing field. It’s not about how much money you can spend in a wind tunnel, it’s a competition of intelligence. This is about who are the smartest engineers in the world.”

So the cars can think for themselves?

JC: “You’ve got two options. There’s artificial intelligence, where you tell the car, ‘Here’s a set of circumstances,’ scan the track and give it all that information. Then there’s machine learning, where it goes around the track, getting better and better: ‘That last turn took 0.61 seconds, but I think I can do it in 0.59 if I cut the corner, which will be 4 mph faster.’ It depends on the teams and what they bring from a technological point of view.”

© Roborace // Youtube

Without the fatality risk, will the racing be more extreme?

JC: “Absolutely. The acceleration and behavior will be like seeing gas cars on steroids. Watching a car go past at 180 mph with unbelievable aerodynamics and no driver is a hell of an experience. Inevitably, there will be collisions. From a cost point of view, no one will want that, but it’s a part of motorsports.”

Speaking of unbelievable aerodynamics, how much of the car is pure style?

DANIEL SIMON: “This can’t only be a tech exercise, because no one would pay to see that. It has to be emotional, but we took out one of the biggest emotional factors: Hamilton and Rosberg kicking each other’s ass. The intention was to create something sleek and beautiful that still creates incredible downforce and driving dynamics. Put a team of engineers on it and the outcome is like designing a moon rover. We want to entertain and excite. We want a reaction like, ‘What the f*ck, this is awesome!’ ”

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How will the cars evolve?

JC: “Our ambition is to accelerate driverless electric technology. What’s the one thing that would really grab people’s attention and be the most exciting spectacle in the evolution of sporting competition? Google’s driverless car has driven however many zillions of miles, but most of that’s been at 10 mph. We’re going at 180 mph, which changes everything. “When we started, we looked at birds and fish—natural objects created to go faster and do incredible things. We could have been much more crazy and sci-fi and wild, but if you go too far, people become confused and scared, and you lose what you’re trying to do. The purpose here is to demystify the fear that ‘the robots are coming.’ I think you’ll see an amazing evolution over the next few years. Daniel has some incredible thoughts on how to do that.”

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09 2016 The Red Bulletin

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