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Roboracing Coming To Formula E

Originally published on GAS2.

Okay. I get it. A vacuum cleaner that guides itself around the house, finding every trace of dust and dirt, is a wonderful thing. A boon to mankind. But robotic race cars? Really?

The Guardian reports that Formula E will have a new feature as early as next year — Roboracing! Ten teams, with two driverless cars each, will compete in one-hour races at Formula E races around the world.

Denis Sverdlov, the founder of Kinetik and Roborace, said:

“We passionately believe that, in the future, all of the world’s vehicles will be assisted by [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 coexist with us in real life. Thus, anyone who is at the edge of this transformation now has a platform to show the advantages of their driverless solutions and this shall push the development of the technology.”

Details about Roboracing are few. In Formula E, the drivers must come into the pits and change cars halfway through the one-hour race, because today’s batteries do not have enough energy to power the cars for much more than half an hour at that speed. Will Roboracers need to do the same thing? Formula E fans say the lengthy mid-race pit stop is one of their least favorite things.

Formula E was always intended as a way of pushing electric car technology forward. Higher-power batteries, wireless charging, and rapid battery swapping are all ideas that may get tested in Formula E before being applied to road cars. It has the potential to improve the electric car experience for everyone.

But what is the point of robotic racing? From the beginning, motorsport has been about watching actual human beings drive at the limits of adhesion as they battle each other through the twists and turns. Skill, determination, and sheer guts are what the fans pay to see.

Is anyone seriously suggesting that racing fans will become emotionally involved with a computer the way they did with legends like Stirling Moss, Ayrton Senna, or Michael Schumacher? Robot racing, by definition, will remove all emotion from the mix and replace it with an unending stream of digital directives.

Years ago, Williams F1 made a light-hearted TV commercial that featured Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher sitting in the stands, piloting their Formula One race cars using radio controllers. It was a fun bit of whimsy and enjoyable to watch. Little did we know it was a glimpse of what real racing would be like in the future.

Alejandro Agag, the CEO of Formula E, says, “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.”

Sure, it’s exciting for them. But what about us racing fans? Do we really want to watch a duel among machines, one in which all passion has been surgically removed? Artificial intelligence is all well and good, but it is, by definition, artificial. Call me old fashioned. Call me a Luddite. Call me “so last century.” I don’t care. Roboracing is a stunt, one that has no relevance to motorsport. I hope it fails.

 
 
 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?

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