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09/07 2018

The World’s First Driverless Racing Series Will Run Its Opening Season With Human Drivers BY:  Alanis King

Roborace CEO Lucas di Grassi and the Roborace self-driving car.Image: Roborace, Andrew Ferraro (LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)

Auto racing follows the trends of the auto industry, for better or worse, and that includes self-driving tech. But the world’s first major self-driving racing series won’t go full computer right away—its inaugural 2019 season will have humans behind the wheel, tag teaming races with the artificial intelligence in the car.

The idea for the planned Formula E support series, Roborace, has been public for a few years now with one main goal: to put electric self-driving cars on a track and have them learn how to be competitive. Outside of that, its leadership hasn’t been totally sold on where to go with it. In 2017, a number of ideas were on the table—obstacle courses, points for certain dangerous maneuvers, tracks that change each lap, or just regular races. They weren’t sure what to do, but wanted Roborace to be “like a circus—a super high-technology one.”

But one thing seems to be for sure, at least for the series’ first season: The cars will have drivers. It won’t be a bunch of self-driving cars chauffeured around a track by humans, though—according to Motorsport.com, it’ll be a team effort between a driver and an AI computer that trade off in the driving role.

Motorsport.com reports that the plan is for the opening season to start early next year, and that now CEO and Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi said everything is “on schedule” for the series’ first event. From Motorsport.com:

“The essence of the racing will be of humans and intelligent machines working together for the best racing outcome,” di Grassi wrote in this week’s edition of Autosport Engineering magazine.

“Yes, there will be a human professional driver inside the car driving, ‘teaching’ the machine for part of the race.

“The rest will be taken over by the machine learning algorithms, or an ‘AI driver’.

“The winner will be the best combination of both. You can think of it as two drivers sharing a car in an endurance race, but in this case one is the machine itself!”

Motorsport.com reports that the look of the cars for the opening season isn’t public yet, since the dog bone-style car that the series uses promotionally doesn’t have a place for a human driver.

But di Grassi said hardware will look almost identical on vehicles, and that the 2,200-pound cars will have two motors making about 400 brake horsepower. (For comparison, the new production Mazda Miata weighs about 2,400 poundsand has 181 HP.) The software will be where teams can invest, di Grassi said, to “have some form of differentiation” between cars.

It’s safe to say that if humans will be in the cars for at least the first season, Roborace won’t go with some of its circus-like ideas for competitions. After the humans are gone, though, maybe this stuff will turn into some form of Mario Kart! Live. It sounds like a Vegas show already.