Watch a pro drifter battle an autonomous race car on the track

It’s often said that self-driving cars will be safer than cars driven by humans, but will they be faster? Roborace is developing a race series for autonomous cars, and that idea won’t really work unless the machines can at least match the performance of humans. So Roborace brought together one of its autonomous cars and pro driver Ryan Tuerck for a good old fashioned showdown.

Tuerck races in Formula Drift, so he’s no stranger to driving fast, albeit usually sideways. Roborace invited him to Rome to meet DevBot, its prototype autonomous car. Tuerck first drove DevBot around the street circuit set up for Formula E, then got out and let the car set its own lap time autonomously.

The all-electric DevBot weighs about 2,200 pounds, and boasts 550 horsepower. Because the car is electric, that power comes on instantaneously. All-wheel drive helps make the most of it. Note that DevBot isn’t a finished product, it’s just used for testing. The version Roborace plans to use in real races has sleeker bodywork, and no room for a human driver.

So how did Tuerck fare against the machine? After a few less-than-perfect practice laps, he set a best time of 1:51.8. Left to its own devices, DevBot set a best time of 2:18.4. So much for our new robot overlords.

But while humanity may have won this battle, the war will continue. Roborace founder Denis Sverdlov told Tuerck that, while nothing is certain, he believes autonomous cars could best the times of human drivers “within this year.” But while Roborace has conducted numerous high-profile demonstrations, it’s unclear when the first fully-autonomous race will take place, or whether anyone will want to watch it.

Roborace plans to piggyback off Formula E, running its races in between the times when that series’ electric race cars are on the track. That should provide Roborace with a ready-made audience, but it will be interesting to see if the series can build a following on its own. Much of the popularity of racing is built on the skill and celebrity of the drivers, so removing the human element may not be easy.

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