Robot Cars To Join Formula E Racing

Photo: Lucas Laursen

The Formula E electric motor racing series is adding a robotic opening act: autonomous cars will race just before the human-driven race begins. The races, scheduled for the 2016-2017 season, will comprise a parallel championship called ROBORACE.

The robo-cars won’t have the same specifications as the human-driven ones. Free from the burden of meat and safety hardware, the robot cars could have an hours' endurance, organizers say, which is about double that of last year's human-driven Formula E cars.

What they gain in endurance, they lose in human decision-making power. But already, Formula E engineers and mechanics attributed a lot of their success—and failures—to their power-management algorithms (see "A New Formula for Formula E", IEEE Spectrum, October 2015). With human drivers out of the picture, and all teams using the same hardware, the differences between each team's driving algorithms will dominate ROBORACE.

The London-based venture capital firm funding ROBORACE, Kinetik, predicts that the cars will top 300 kph (186 mph), reports Wired UK. That is a bit higher than the speeds sustained by Formula E cars. Kinetik recently invested in a British company designing EV tech for trucks and buses.

Unlike Formula E's human-driven cars, which organizers designed to mimic previous generations of gasoline-powered racing vehicles, these robots could have more exotic—and efficient—aerodynamics. Organizers will invite a "community" team of software and hardware enthusiasts to compete, too. Formula E organizers revealed few other technical details. Perhaps some of the students who used to race in the recently cancelled Formula E “schools series” can try to get in on that.

No word yet on when the series will conduct a face-off between top robot and human drivers.

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