We all knew this was coming, and we also know that this is just the start. Artificial intelligence will never stop evolving as the computing power increases with decreasing costs to apply it. Driverless cars are already a thing of the near future, and I think they are the right way to take civilisation ahead in many ways. Robots racing instead of humans though, sounds like a complete anti-petrolhead suggestion. But is it really?
Soon, Formula E races will be joined by driverless cars whizzing around the racetrack. These cars, called as DevBots are set to make their first public appearance at the Silverstone circuit in UK on August 24 at the Formula E practice sessions. While the current prototype cars are fitted with a cockpit for a driver, just in case the software and artificial intelligence goofs up, the final race-ready versions will be void of any human controls. The whole idea behind Roborace is to pit cars that are mechanically carbon copies of each other, and then put the teams in a challenge over who can tune the underlying software better and write better code that boosts the AI of their racing vehicles. And here lies good part about driverless racing.
Motorsport, while being a delight to watch and an even better experience to participate in, is driven by engineering at its core. Cars and motorcycles are raced with each other to see which team can make the best engineered vehicle. Off course, it also is about the driver, after all, they are the ones who are responsible to pilot the immensely high-engineered machinery to victory with their talents behind the wheels. But coming back to the engineer’s point of view, the driver is also the most unreliable part of the whole equation. He is an organic being who is restricted by his own consciousness, and his decision making power; and that is where the whole problem lies in. A racing driver can and will only push as hard as his/her own physical capability; his fear and his bravery. We are also prone to mistakes, sometimes that would cost us our lives. No matter how hard we try to be analytical, we are bound to be driven by emotions, which sometimes make us take decisions that aren’t analytically the best. But when the job of driving is given to artificial intelligence, it will push the cars to their limits in accordance to whats possible by the books of physics. So while we might be faced with robots driving cars like absolute limp-brained-motors when Roborace starts off, the more data they collect from the environment they are racing in would enable them to go faster and faster, eventually overcoming the performance of a human being. From pure engineering point of view, this is the epitome in the testing and development cycle that was previously un-breachable with the human at the helm of things. Hereon, its purely about the technology, its betterment and immense advances that would result from it.
While this all may sound dull and boring, which it absolutely is… robotic racing is the future of innovation. It is the setting where the next advance engineering technologies will be developed, which were previously being restricted due to the capability of flesh and bone racing drivers. But for us lot who enjoy the old-fashioned approach to motorsport, the challenges will never stop coming. Till the time there are two cars with drivers in them, there will be always be the spirit of one championing over the other. It might not be for the development of new technologies anymore, but it will always be there for the reason we all participate in it and praise it – keeping our adrenaline surging. Racing will always continue in its legacy format. We will always have our heroes and our gladiators battling it out on the tarmac arena. They might no longer be the fastest or the most precise, but in their inconsistencies are where the liveliness of the sport will always reside.