Roborace takes its first step toward conquering the track with autonomous cars

Roborace Robocar in Paris

Roborace is steadily making progress toward its goal of taking human drivers out of racing. Its autonomous “Robocar” racer made its first public demonstration over the weekend, completing one lap of a race circuit.

The circuit in question was the temporary steer track laid out for the Paris Formula E ePrix (as Formula E races are called). Roborace plans to piggyback off Formula E, which is a race series for human-piloted electric cars, running its own events during Formula E race weekends.

Roborace previously demonstrated prototype cars, called “DevBots,” at other Formula E events, even putting two of the self-driving cars on a track at the same time. But these cars, which have cockpits for backup human drivers, were designed purely for testing. Robocar is what Roborace actually plans to use in its autonomous grands prix.

Robocar’s first public outing was fairly low key, however. The car completed one lap of the 1.9-kilometer (1.1-mile) Paris Formula E circuit, navigating without human assistance. But it drove very slowly and even had to stop once, according to Motorsport.com. This was because the car’s minders were concerned about the vehicle getting too close to the barriers in one turn, Roborace CTO Bryn Balcombe said.

Once the bugs are worked out, Robocar should have the pace of a proper race car. Roborace claims it will have a top speed of over 320 kph (198 mph). That’s thanks to the muscle of four electric motors, each producing 300 kilowatts (402 horsepower) to help propel the 975-kilogram (2,149-pound) car. The design is credited to Daniel Simon, who previously designed vehicles for movies like Tron: Legacy and Oblivion.

The car may look cool, but Roborace will need to do more than conduct a few demonstration runs to get autonomous racing off the ground. Even if the technology proves a match for the rigors of motor sport, it remains to be seen whether fans will embrace a race series without human drivers, or whether robotic racing will really be exciting to watch.