Robots, Start Your Engines!
Erin Green posted on December 09, 2015 |

The technology for self-driving cars has been all the rage lately, with big names like Tesla and Volvo racing to be the first to market. However, they might soon lose first place.

Formula E, an international stage for racing electric cars, will open each race in its 2016/2017 season with what it’s calling Roborace.


Roborace competitors will modify standard-issue electric race cars like this one into autonomous racing machines. (Image courtesy of Formula E.)

Roborace competitors will modify standard-issue electric race cars like this one into autonomous racing machines. (Image courtesy of Formula E.)

Refining Technology for Driverless Cars

As with the rest of the Formula E series, Roborace is a platform for pushing the limits of electric race cars.

The difference is that this time the cars will be driving themselves.

“It’s a global platform to show that robotic technologies and AI can co-exist with us in real life,” said Denis Sverdlov, founder of Roborace.

“Thus, anyone who is at the edge of this transformation now has a platform to show the advantages of their driverless solutions and this shall push the development of the technology,” Sverdlov continued.


The Making of a Roborace Car

Ten teams will each outfit two standard-issue cars with their own AI tech and real-time algorithms. While most of the teams will likely be from large industrial automakers and tech universities, one of the teams will crowd-source from independent talents all over the world.

This sort of competitive platform will open up the race for autonomous tech to whomever has the best idea.

Formula E cars already use high-tech methods for their electric engines, including wireless induction chargers like this one for refueling. The hope for Roborace is to inspire similar breakthroughs for driverless tech. (Image courtesy of Formula E.)

Formula E cars already use high-tech methods for their electric engines, including wireless induction chargers like this one for refueling. The hope for Roborace is to inspire similar breakthroughs for driverless tech. (Image courtesy of Formula E.)

The cars are restricted to a maximum power of 170kW, but here’s where it gets fun: Formula E runs a popularity contest called FanBoost, where fans of the series can vote for their favorite teams. Winning teams receive an extra 100kJ of energy for single use.

Remind anyone else of a MarioKart mushroom?


Racing Toward Autonomous Cars

Formula E has suffered at the hands of well-known auto critics such as Car and Driver who claim that watching electric cars race really isn’t that exciting. Imagine that – electric engines are quieter than the regular racing ones.

What these commentators forget is that although Formula E may lack the deafening roars and other adrenaline-inducing noises of regular racing, this is exactly what makes it a great concept.

Formula E is a platform to test and develop these quiet electric cars before they debut on public roads. With this new addition, it stands to do the same for autonomous cars.

Although driverless cars aren’t on the market just yet, Roborace is designed to prove that the technology for these vehicles already exists and can work in extreme conditions.

“We passionately believe that, in the future, all of the world’s vehicles will be assisted by AI and powered by electricity, thus improving the environment and road safety,” said Sverdlov.

It may seem strange to use a high-speed, presumably dangerous race as a platform for general road safety improvement. However, if autonomous vehicles can manage to avoid epic race track crashes, they should be just fine on public roads.

If you’d like to get up to speed on the Formula E and Roborace, check out the website.

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