Contrary to my nature as GridTalk’s History buff and purveyor of the past, it may surprise people to know that I am a keen futurist. My personal philosophy as a human is that of moving forward, learning from mistakes, and embracing new things where possible. Come next year; we should be watching the first season of Roborace, which aims to be the first world championship for autonomous vehicles.
Does it make sense to do this? I would say so. In an industry where the demands of the consumer and politics influence the development of the systems of transport we use, it only makes sense that this series aims to develop these concepts. Formula One has been at the forefront of modernisation and development of modern automotive technology. With autonomous cars being developed by companies such as Tesla and Google, we are going to see motor-racing embrace and lead development of these technologies.
The concept of Roborace was first conceived by electronic vehicle magnate Denis Sverdlov, founder of Arrival, with official CEO Lucas Di Grassi, the 2016/2017 Formula E Champion. Between 2016-2018, the technology was tested at select Formula E Races, including a demonstration of a working Robocar at the Paris E-Prix, and a successful completion of the Goodwood Hill Climb at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed.
In 2019, Season Alpha of Roborace began, with two teams testing out race concepts between two cars in Spain and at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed, where the cars reached a top speed of 101.2mph. The cars also achieved the Guinness World Record for the fastest autonomous car in the world, with speeds just shy of 175.5 mph. As of 2021, the concept is in its beta season. With 7 competitors and 16 races to take place between September of 2020-2021, the teams have to complete missions in order for each team to develop sufficient programming for their cars in order to compete in wheel to wheel racing.
What will Roborace cars be like?
Designed by Concept Car designer Daniel Simon, each team is given the same chassis and power engine, meaning each team has the same car. Each car weighs 1350kg, is 4.8 metres long, and 2 metres wide. With 4 electric motors, at 135kW apiece, the cars can produce 500 horsepower, with an 840V battery, with a projected top speed of 190 mph.
Without drivers, the cars will more likely be operated exclusively from the pitstop, with teams monitoring their cars from computers rather than from the wheel. Perhaps it will more resemble a LAN Party than a motor race.
Having looked at images of the cars and seeing them in action, they do come across as something out of a science fiction movie. The shape of a teardrop influences the design, and without the need for a human pilot, the cars are designed in such a way to be sleek and futuristic.
What’s next for Roborace, and will it be successful?
As of July 2021, they are still in the midst of beta testing these vehicles (which can be watched in action on Twitch, should you be interested), but 2022 is slated to be the year in which they start competitive wheel to wheel racing. As for its success, only time can tell. The fact that it has gone from concept to reality in the space of 6 years is very promising for the new series. It is currently not sanctioned by the FIA, so it will not be an FIA World Championship come to its launch in 2022.
I posed the question of whether Roborace will be the future of motor racing. And honestly, I don’t think it will be the future. It will certainly be part of the future, but it will certainly not be the final evolution of Grand Prix racing or the sort. I do see it, however, as the next step on from the strides that Formula E has taken in recent years. All-electric cars are the future of the motor industry, and starting a new, autonomous vehicle led series with electric cars is a step in the right direction.
For it to stick, with its mixed reality and augmented reality elements, it needs to avoid becoming a gimmick or a novelty. Again, it all depends. However, to the team at Roborace, I wish them good luck and look forward to seeing what comes next for them in 2022.