Roboracing gets real

WCX 2019: Start your self-driving racecars

The world’s first competitive field of driverless race cars is set to debut in side-by-side racing in the spring of 2019.

The world’s first electric driverless racecars are about to hit the accelerator pedal. “In order to create this new type of motorsport, we had to design and build vehicles—because they didn’t exist,” said Bryn Balcombe, Chief Strategy Officer for U.K.-based Roborace. Balcombe spoke exclusively with Automotive Engineering after his morning TechTalk on “Intelligent motorsport—the most extreme proving ground for self-driving cars?” during the opening day of WCX 2019.

DevBot (short for development robot) debuted in August 2016, with the DevBot 2.0 (top, in the above image) appearing in April 2019. The DevBot can be configured for a human-driver so that development teams can test their software within the racecar’s hardware. In addition to the DevBots, there is the fully autonomous electric Robocar (bottom, in the above image), designed by Daniel Simon, who has created concept vehicles for Hollywood films including “Tron: Legacy” and “Oblivion.”

“We started with a single self-driving racecar demonstration and now we’re moving to wheel-to-wheel racing,” Balcombe said, noting that demonstrations have included hillclimbs at Goodwood, England and street-style track racing. Spectator activities typically include autonomous vehicle encounters with real-world challenges such as static and dynamic obstacle avoidance.

The sleek-looking racing robot-racers navigate the surroundings via a hardware arsenal that includes five lidar sensors, six machine-vision cameras, two radar sensors, 18 ultrasonic sensors and a GPS system with a five-optic gyroscope. “With all of those systems fused together, we can get down to about a centimeter-level of accuracy,” said Balcombe.

When side-by-side autonomous racing begins – expected this spring – the differentiator will be each team’s software. Those software development teams are comprised primarily of post-doctorate or PhD research groups. “That’s the level of engineering talent that you need in order to write the software that goes into the autonomous racecar,” Balcombe asserted.

Competitive autonomous-car racing with team-specific developed software will be a world-first. “We did a demonstration in Buenos Aires of two autonomous cars racing in 2017, but that was running our own software. This year is the first time that we’ll see two AI (artificial intelligence) vehicles on the track at the same time,” Balcombe said. He noted that throughout 2019, more competitive interactions will unfold, with four autonomously-driven racecars.

The motorsports arena has always been a unique test bed. “The thing with motorsports is it engages an additional level of passion,” said Balcombe. “This is a fascinating spot for us to be working and really pushing the development of AI technologies.”

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