Programming a World Champion
An autonomous race series? Here’s what the future could look like
ROBORACE IS THE first attempt at using autonomous technology in motorsport. As a lifelong fan of the sport and someone who studies the dynamics of the personal interactions of our sport on and off track between drivers, management, promoters and fans, I should really be writing about how this is going to kill our sport. Nope.
In fact, I proposed to the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest) a few years ago that it should set a challenge that someone bring an autonomous car to Le Mans for the Garage 56 slot (for innovative vehicles) in 2020.
Today motorsport is struggling to find its place in society. Entertainment or engineering? Waste of resources or test bed for lower emissions? The debate rages on. Whilst it does, the world changes. Five years ago Elon Musk was a chancer, EVs were laughed at and Trump was just a reality TV star… Now everyone is stealing Musk’s people and ideas, the entire VW Group is all about EVs, and President Trump is a reality.
Autonomous will impact the automotive industry far more than EVs will. Electricity is just a propulsion method. Autonomous changes everything. Car ownership, road and city design, the law, the business model, the brands involved and and and…
So once we accept it’s coming, as fans and guardians of our sport we have to see how we can make sure motorsport contributes to and benefits from the seismic shift.
In parallel with their road car engineer cousins, motorsport engineers will have to programme in advance how their autonomous vehicles should react to billions of scenarios. The legal ramifications on the road are mind-boggling. But let’s just take one scenario on track to illustrate the issue…
You can’t win the championship for your brand (Uber Racing Inc) unless another programmer and their brand (Google Deutschland) finishes behind some other racing pods. You’ve spent your whole life getting to this point so you have to give your pod the right scenario to ensure it comes out on top, or there’s no point competing.
So you try to slow down the Google by allowing the autonomous energy drink can and flying red branded baseball cap to have a chance of getting past them. This is exactly what your real life heroes would have done in the last century. Win at any cost. But you are also a reasonable guy, so the algorithm you deploy is not aggressive enough and Google wins the championship.
You are broken. This is the only reason you get up in the morning. It is your whole life. Yet you congratulate Herr Google and thank your IT team for all of their support. But back home the tech press attack your pre-programmed scenarios, saying you will be fired
Autonomous will impact the automotive industry far more than EVs will. Electric is just a propulsion
and even aggressively attacking your character and personality. Yet all you did was try to win. Like your heroes did when men were men. Some of those men even say that you could have turned the ‘backing up’ scenario from 7 to 10.
With the tech press being so negative you decide the old way of talking to your fans via an outdated platform called ‘the press’ is not the most efficient way of communicating. You can show your fans what it’s like to be a programmer of autonomous race cars directly, your message getting to them without interference from third parties. You even taunt the old industry by making yourself look like a rabbit in the headlights during an archaic tradition called a ‘press conference’.
If we were programming our ultimate driver we’d likely add parts of Senna, Hunt, Gilles and others. Until this season I was on the fence with Lewis. But on and off track I really think we have a mix of those greats. His rebellion on Snapchat and team radio is the 2017 version of the rough edges that people loved in previous heroes.