GRR

How AI drove the Roborace up the hill

13th July 2018
Bob Murray

Before you ask, it didn’t make its own way to the paddock, it wasn’t allowed to go flat out and it didn’t set a time, but in all other things the Robocar was a resounding success at the 2018 Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard. As first race car to negotiate the 1.16-mile hillclimb without human intervention its place in the Goodwood history books is assured.

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Roborace’s futuristic looking, electric-powered racing sled looks fast just standing still – it can do well over 200mph – but there’s no steering wheel let alone a place for someone to sit. This is a car with no driver.

“Oh yes there is,” says Roborace’s Jun Imai. “The driver is called AI – artificial intelligence.

“AI did all the driving, from start line to finish line,” Jun tells us. On his first trip to the UK, June started as head of studio for Roborace just a month ago.

He says the car was limited to 120 km/h (75mph) on the hill. It was programmed for the route with information gathered by a second human-driven Robocar which did a recce. Good to know humans are useful for something…

While the other autonomous hillclimb car this year, the Siemens Mustang, has a driver aboard “in case”, Robocar is all on its own once under way. There is no remote “driver” controlling it via telemetry. June Imai says all they can do is shut it down if they have to. But they have never had to do that so far. “The car has been running faultlessly all FOS weekend,” says Jun. 

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Part of June’s job is to focus on human/machine interaction in an autonomous world, part of which embraces video gaming. In all respects but one Robocar would make the perfect Gran Turismo games console supercar. But not needing a driver would surely take away the appeal of playing the game?

“Not necessarily. Games players wouldn’t drive the car as they do now but they would programme it, change the car’s set-up for different circuits the way they do now but at a much higher level with an autonomous race car. It’s a possibility. Why not?”

It’s going to be an autonomous automotive world… and you’ve seen it first at Goodwood.

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