All kinds of cars turn up at the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed to run up Goodwood’s famous hill climb course, but none have ever done it like this. Roborace’s autonomous race car, called Robocar successfully navigated the 1.16-mile course without a human driver onboard, becoming the first vehicle to do so.
Roborace hopes to launch a race series for self-driving cars featuring the Robocar. But so far it’s just conducted a series of high-profile public tests using both the Robocar and an earlier prototype called DevBot. While the DevBot has a full set of manual controls, the only way for a human being to ride the Robocar would be to jump on top like Slim Pickens riding that nuclear missile in Dr. Strangelove.
Like most self-driving cars, the Robocar uses an array of sensors to orient itself, including radar, lidar, cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and GPS. Information from all of these sensors is processed by a Nvidia Drive PX 2 computer.
The car weighs 1,350 kilograms (2,976 pounds) and is powered by four electric motors that, together, develop over 500 horsepower, according to Roborace. The specifications have changed a bit since the original Robocar prototype debuted, indicating that the design of the car is still in flux. What hasn’t changed is the futuristic body penned by Daniel Simon, who previously designed vehicles for movies like Tron: Legacy and Oblivion.
Roborace plans to provide Robocars to teams as an API (application for programming interface). All cars will be mechanically identical, but teams will be able to write their own driving algorithms. Instead of hiring a better driver, teams will program one. Races are expected to be run in concert with Formula E, which features human-driven electric cars. Roborace plans to use the same tracks as Formula E, running its races during Formula E’s downtime.
The Robocar wasn’t the only self-driving car at Goodwood this year. It was joined by a 1965 Ford Mustang modified with autonomous-driving tech from Siemens and Cranfield University. But the Mustang’s outing didn’t go as plan. The car set off at a slow pace, then proceeded to zigzag across the track. A human safety driver had to retake control multiple times in order to keep the Mustang on course. Siemens said this underwhelming performance was due to a steering issue and had nothing to do with its self-driving tech.
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