Roborace wants to take the human element out of racing. It hopes to launch the world’s first race series using self-driving cars, but it’s taking a gradual approach to reaching that goal. Roborace just unveiled its latest prototype, dubbed DevBot 2.0, and the car still features a cockpit for a human driver.
For its first season, called Season Alpha, Roborace will have humans and machines work together. Cars will set lap times both with human drivers and autonomously, and these times will be compared to those of other teams to determine a winner. So cars won’t race wheel to wheel, as they do in more conventional race series.
DevBot 2.0 is an evolution of Roborace’s first development vehicle, DevBot 1.0. It has a more stylized look than its predecessor, and it’s fully electric. Roborace also has a car called Robocar with no space for a human driver at all, but it won’t be deployed until later seasons, Roborace CEO and Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi said in an interview with Motorsport.com.
“We changed our mind,” di Grassi told the website. “The initial idea was to do it with the Robocar. Having a human driver jump out so the car can drive itself will better illustrate the difference between human and autonomous driving, he offered. Roborace is building “six or seven” cars for the initial season, di Grassi said, adding that software and the format of races is still being finalized.
Cars will be mechanically identical; the only difference will be the software they use to operate in autonomous mode. In theory, the team that writes the best software wins. Roborace previously discussed pairing its races with Formula E, which features human-driven electric cars. Roborace would run its races during Formula E events, at times when the Formula E cars aren’t on track.
Roborace’s inaugural season kicks off in 2019. DevBot 2.0 is expected to be used for both that initial season and the second season, called Season Beta. But in 2021 Roborace may eliminate human drivers completely, switching from DevBot 2.0 to the fully autonomous Robocar. That all depends on how things go in Roborace’s first two seasons.