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Robocar takes pole position in the race for driverless motorsport

The sleek lines of the Robocar racer (Photo: Roborace)

The firm behind the world’s first human-free racing circuit reveals its sleek new supercar.

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The firm behind the world’s first human-free racing circuit reveals its sleek new supercar.

What comes to mind when you think of Formula 1 racing? Drivers' daring manoeuvers? Drivers standing proudly on the podium? Drivers spraying champagne over their rivals in a victorious ritual? That's right, drivers.

Well if Roborace takes off, you can forget "Drivers, start your engines!" - as there won't be any. Rather than driverless cars threatening motorsport, driverless cars could become motorsport! The company plans to become a new global racing series - pitting teams against each other as their driverless robocars battle it out on the track. Its goal is to become a support series to Formula E - the all-electric race series which began in 2014.

The competition format will see all teams given the same car - which has just been revealed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

And it's a beauty.

That's not really a surprise since its designer is none other than Daniel Simon, who has not only spent time with VW, Audi, Bentley and Bugatti, but also conceptualized vehicles for movies like Prometheus, Captain America, and Tron: Legacy. And design appears to be high up on the agenda: "We want people to see this like a Tron, or an Oblivion, or a Star Wars spaceship," said Justin Cooke, chief marketing officer of Roborace when speaking to WIRED.

The car itself boasts a narrow spine where the cockpit would be as well as huge aerodynamic scoops that house the wheels. It's built from carbon fibre and weighs in at 2,149 lbs (975kg). Dimensions wise, it is slightly smaller than the average Formula One racer. Its sensor array includes five LiDARs, two radars, and six cameras - and Roborace have teamed up with NVIDIA to provide the central processor: the Drive PX2 AI chip.

But if each team gets the same hardware and there is no driver prowess to make the difference - on what basis do teams actually compete? In a word: software. The competitive edge will have to come from each team's real-time computing algorithms and artificial intelligence technologies.

And therein lies the bigger hope for driverless racing: that the innovations tested within the safety net of the track could somehow crossover to the road. Sure, the track itself lacks any complexity you would find in road situations but who's to say it will just be a question of sheer speed over laps? Roborace might go more into the direction of racing challenges - with obstacles introduced to really push the teams' capabilities.

Read the full article on WIRED here.

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