The Driver Can Basically Race Against AI

The first time I heard about Roborace and its plan to create a driverless car and let it autonomously race around the track, I was a bit overwhelmed. What’s the point? Then, I started thinking. For decades now, we have been more entertained by manufacturers’ rivalry than actual rivalry between drivers. In this case, however, the real race would not be handled on the tracks, but behind the keyboards and monitors. In essence, whoever writes the best software code for autonomous racing car - Roborace DevBot - would win.

That is the main goal with Roborace. Well, it was. After a sort of a fail that Lucas di Grassi’s company (yup, he is CEO of Roborace, and if you are into cars you have to know who he is) experienced last year with autonomous racing, Roborace scaled back its expectations. This led to the development of the Roborace 2.0. Revealed only days ago and focused on entering a one-make racing series in late 2019. The new car has some striking differences compared with the Roborace DevBot. First of all, it has a full cockpit for the driver, it features an RWD setup instead of the AWD setup, and it will provide a possibility for the driver to basically race against freaking AI.

I am NOT joking.

What Is So Special About the Roborace 2.0?

2019 Roborace DevBot 2.0
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Well, I’ve just told you. However, to achieve almost incredible capability for the driver to race AI, Roborace had to think out of the box. I know, you don’t like the “out of the box” phrase, but please bear with me. See, Roborace 2.0 racing, which will be held on the same tracks as the Formula E during the pauses between the races of the Formula E, will be organized in a few different stages. First of, the drivers will go on full attack mode and set the best time in their Roborace 2.0 race cars. Yup, they will drive.

Then, after the teams finish the first stage (for the start Lucas di Grassi expects less than ten cars), the Roborace 2.0 will go on autonomously basically trying to best the drivers.

Still, a whole bunch of kinks has to be worked out.

Now, we have witnessed Audi and its fully autonomous RS7 lapping the Sonoma Raceway in California. It managed to do it thanks to the fact that the system basically remembered the track and everything the actual driver did while driving. With super precise GPS and a bunch of sensors on board, the autonomous RS7 was stunningly fast completing the course in 2 minutes and 1 second.

2019 Roborace DevBot 2.0
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The Roborace 2.0 will do a similar thing.

Thanks to a multitude of onboard sensors, the car will actually be able to scan the outside and “remember” a bunch.

Then, when racing, it will probably try to mimic the driver. Trying to better its time in the process where, I guess, the driver made a mistake, or drove slower than actually possible.

Now, this is some special stuff. It really is. We witnessed a Roborace autonomous racing effort at the Goodwood Festival of Speed where it successfully covered the 1.16-mile course. Not really fast, unfortunately, and it seemed a bit jerky. That was the first prototype. Now, you are looking at the Roborace 2.0. A strikingly good-looking car, wouldn’t you say!?

Exterior

2019 Roborace DevBot 2.0
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Obviously inspired by the designer of the Le Mans LMP1 racers, the Roborace 2.0 differs considerably compared with the DevBot that run up that Goodwood hill climb.

The new car has a cockpit. The tear-shaped cockpit follows the aerodynamic nature of the whole car. The hips are still quite narrow helping with the overall layout. See, with less weight on the sides and wheels at far ends in the corners, stability is elevated to the highest possible level. Just by looking at it, I am sure that this thing can do some serious runs on any track. With a driver, mind you.

Lucas di Grassi offered a sort of an explanation for the Roborace 2.0 and the fact that it now has a cockpit for the driver. Di Grassi commented, "I think motorsport has to have a human component. It’s always been about human and machine."

This is a bit different compared to the main idea behind the company, but I guess Roborace has to adapt to reality and fan expectations. So yes, this fact alone meant that the exterior had to be redesigned.

In a talk with TopGear journalists, the main engineer behind the Roborace 2.0, Daniel Simon, said that he is “very fascinated with putting a human aspect into it.”

He added, “I really like the idea of these simple formats of a human setting a lap time, and the autonomous mode tries to beat it. Or you work together in a team mode. We’re working hard to be entertaining.”

Interior

Roborace did not disclose any photographs or information for that matter about the interior of the new DevBot 2.0. I can only assume it will have a classic racing layout - read it will be spartan inside with mandatory racing and safety equipment. With seating only for one in the middle, the Roborace DevBot 2.0 should be quite entertaining and definitely focused on being as fast as possible.

Drivetrain and performance

2019 Roborace DevBot 2.0
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As it turns out, the Roborace 2.0 has a Ginetta tub as the previous version of the car. Now, I have to assume that the 2.0 has much the same in terms of electric motors and sensors.

Last year, I learned that the Roborace DevBot had four electric motors with 180 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque per motor.

The new car definitely has the same motors. Only I do not know if it uses two of them or all four of them. If I am to guess, I’d say that the RWD setup of the DevBot 2.0 revealed it actually uses two of those motors. It is still a fast car, mind you. 360 electric horsepower in a car formed as this is nothing to laugh at. One of the engineers working on the Roborace DevBot 2.0 said that “it’s got a ridiculous amount of torque.”

Final Thoughts

2019 Roborace DevBot 2.0
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The Roborace DevBot 2.0 has a different character and a different mission compared with the Roborace DevBot 1.0.

Now, it will race with the driver behind the wheel, however, it actually provides a more realistic platform for the development of fully autonomous racing series.

Next year, the DevBot 2.0 will enter the racing series called the Season Alpha. A year after, it will evolve to a Season Beta. Interestingly, Roborace is still very much interested in developing a fully autonomous racing series. If everything goes according to plan, the autonomous Roborace car without any human input will reach the tracks in 2021.

Further reading

Roborace Shows Us A Glimpse Of The Future With Unveiling of DevBot Autonomous Race Car
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Roborace Shows Us A Glimpse Of The Future With Unveiling of DevBot Autonomous Race Car

Roborace DevBot Completes Goodwood Hillclimb without a Driver (Video)
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Roborace DevBot Completes Goodwood Hillclimb without a Driver

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