Designed by Daniel Simon, who has created cars for Hollywood sci-fi films such as Tron: Legacy,Oblivion,and Captain America, Robocar weighs just over a ton (2,151 pounds) and can hit nearly 200 mph from its 540kW (740 hp) battery pack and four 300kW motors. Helping guide the futuristic missile at breakneck speeds are five LiDar arrays, 18 ultrasonic sensors, six cameras, two optical speed sensors, GNSS positioning antennae, and an NVIDIA Drive PX2 processor, which, apparently, can handle more than 24 trillion computations per second.
Roborace, the driverless racing series in which Robocar will compete, will require that every team uses their own Robocaridentical, hardware-wise, to every other teams. Teams will then be expected to develop their own "standalone software," though, upon which the Robocars hardware will rely.
The biggest hurdle Roborace will encounter, I think, is whether the races will not only be able to draw in an audience, but also whether that audience will be sustainable. And while it will ultimately be peopleengineers and scientistsprogramming the AI software for each teams racer, the lack of an overarching human element will be the Achilles heel of Roborace.
Think about itone reason why racing is so entertaining is because viewers watch fellow humans break barriers, set records, and put their neck out on the line in the face of potentially serious injury and death. Racing is ultimately a human story at its core, a sociological phenomenon that celebrates humanism. We hang up posters of racing icons like Paul Newman, Stefan Bellof, and Jim Clark because they put their human lives at risk when they got behind the wheel, and, for many enthusiasts, were personally inspiring. I cant imagine well hang up posters of Roborace software engineers who solely program the cars, not pilot them, even if they are the biggest human element of Roborace. (Posters of the actual Robocar are a different story, though, because they are pure, futuristic robotic sexiness.)
Simon, Robocars designer, doesnt seem to think this way. "It was very important for us to create an emotional connection with the unmanned cars and bring humans and robots together to define our future," he said. Im curious how he proposes going about that, though, precisely because thats the lynchpin on which the success of Roborace restsan emotional connection, which, by nature, is exclusively limited to sentient beings, not AI.
On the bright side, Roborace will be an impressive testbed for technological advancements in autonomous systems. If 200 mile-per-hour self-driving cars can scoot around a race track without hitting obstaclesor each otherwhile laying down impressive lap times, then theres no reason that technology shouldnt trickle down to consumer cars. But as far as an enthralling racing series goes, I can see the novelty wearing off after an audience watches a single race, or even a single lap. I wouldnt mind being wrong, though.