Yes, you read that correctly! And no, it’s not April 1. This might be the moment for traditionalists, and motorsport purists in particular, to read something else.
A race series, dubbed ROBORACE, for cars with no drivers is set to run in 2016. We know: bonkers! Let us explain, then you can make up your own mind.
Brainchild of Formula E (yes, the FIA-sanctioned, city-circuit single-seater series contested by proper race teams and ace drivers) and Kinetik, ROBORACE will feature 20 identical, driverless electric cars, run by 10 teams, doing battle in hour-long races in support of Formula E events in 2016-’17.
Whatever you may think of that as a concept, you can’t knock the hitherto ground-breaking thinking of the Formula E organisers. They wooed the top teams and drivers, did away with the internal combustion engine we’ve known and loved for years, took their electric racers to city centres around the globe and laid on quite a show.
But now, in what some will doubtless believe is a step too far, they want to do away with drivers. Whatever next?!
ROBORACE is designed to be a technology showcase, proving what’s possible in a branch of automotive science that’s already very much on the major motor manufacturers’ radars.
Denis Sverdlov, Founder of Kinetik and ROBORACE, said: ‘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. 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.’
And the series is clearly an invitation for some very clever people, from the robotics, AI and technology spheres, to get involved, as Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E, confirms: ‘We are very excited to be partnering with Kinetik on what is surely one of the most cutting-edge sporting events in history. ROBORACE is an open challenge to the most innovative scientific and technology-focused companies in the world. It is very exciting to create a platform for them to showcase what they are capable of.’
We’ll keep an open mind about the sort of reception ROBORACE will get among the motorsport cognoscenti, and what the atmosphere and quality of racing might be like, but who knows, in 50 years’ time there may well be an historic driverless car race at the 124th Members’ Meeting. For now, we’ll stew over a few issues: what sort of pre- and post-race interviews can we expect, and how will the podium champagne-spraying ceremony work?
Photography courtesy of ROBORACE, Honda and DS