“ROBORACE misses a crucial point. Motorsport, all sport really, is about human endeavour”


Rob Margeit

RIVERLESS CARS. According to that most wise and learned of modern oracles, Wikipedia, the definition of what it terms an “autonomous car” is: “An autonomous car (driverless car, self-driving car, robotic car) is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input.”

It’s the last three words in that definition that hit me in the face like the exhaust fumes from an electric vehicle never will – “Without human input!” (my exclamation mark, not Wiki’s).

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for car manufacturers spending untold billions on R&D to make our motoring lives a little easier and a whole lot safer. Without that development, we’d still be driving a three-wheeled wonder made by Carl Benz and powered by a simple single-cylinder, two-stroke engine capable of propelling the Motorwagen to a top speed of 11km/h.

Instead, just 130 years later, we are looking at a future where the driver is superfluous and the machine is everything.

I love driving. You love driving. That’s why you’ve bought this magazine. And I also like being driven, whether it’s my partner behind the wheel or a taxi driver or on the rare occasions I’ve been chauffeured by a proper chauffeur, you know the ones – black suits, impenetrable sunglasses, sleek, black, large German sedan – the feeling that washes over you while someone else does the hard work of navigating traffic and the idiots in it can be relaxing and soothing (okay, I lied about liking being driven by a taxi driver; no one likes that). But what I can’t imagine is the seat behind the wheel of all “human input” And that brings weeks ago, an Sverdlov launched world. The idea grid of 20 cars far-fetched but category for the D el empty, a pristine leather-clad vacuum devoid nput” into the art and science of driving a car. ngs me neatly to the point of this rant. A few enterprising individual by the name of Denis hed ROBORACE to an unsuspecting motorsport a is simple; to create a racing series where the is made up entirely of “driverless cars”. Sounds ROBORACE is due to start this year as a support FIA’s all-electric Formula E Championship.

The car itself is like it belongs in on Mars. Or on a Hollywood sciencefiction epic, which that surprising man who penned ROBORACE car Simon, the man the out-of-this-‘light cycles’ from p. s wild. It looks n space. Or the set of sciencehich isn’t since the ned the is Daniel n behind is-world rom the sci-fi blockbuster Tron: Legacy. Technical details are scant but what we do know is that this isn’t some radio-controlled micro racer. It weighs in at a hefty 1000kg or so and will be similar in size to a modern open-wheel race car with a claimed top speed in excess of 300km/h. Controlling it will be an array of sensors that will calibrate everything from ideal cornering speeds to proximity of other ROBORACE cars.

“We passionately believe that, in the future, all of the world’s vehicles will be assisted by AI (Artificial Intelligence) and powered by electricity, thus improving the environment and road safety”, said Sverdlov when launching the car last week.

“ROBORACE is a celebration of revolutionary technology and innovation that humanity has achieved in that area so far. It’s a global platform to show that robotic technologies and AI can co-exist with us in real life.”

But, as wild as ROBORACE is on the surface, it misses a crucial point. Motorsport, all sport really, is about human endeavour. It’s the humanity of its participants that make for thrilling contests.

The act of a driver, a human no less, on the absolute limits of the laws of science is what makes motorsport a gladiatorial contest where only the best survive. Take away that human element and we are left to admire what? An algorithm consisting of a sequence of zeroes and ones in a particular order?

Give me Ayrton Senna, give me Fernando Alonso, give me Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Daniel Ricciardo or Sebastian Vettel. But you can keep ROBORACE (and Lewis Hamilton!). M