Pro­gram­ming a World Cham­pion

An au­ton­o­mous race se­ries? Here’s what the fu­ture could look like

Evo India - - BRIEFING -

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

sys­tem. Au­ton­o­mous

changes ev­ery­thing

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.


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