#19: Daniel Si­mon,

Top Gear (Malaysia) - - Columns -

To me, a pro­ject like Rob­o­race is emo­tion­ally im­por­tant. I’ve worked in the car in­dus­try in the past and I’m still pas­sion­ate about cars, but you can’t do rev­o­lu­tion­ary things any­more. These are con­sumer prod­ucts and it’s a very com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. Most de­sign­ers have an urge to be free and show what can be done. The Seven­ties were a crazy time for show­cars, but we’ve some­how lost that marvel of be­ing a bit out­ra­geous here and there. The in­ter­net is a part of this – there’s a move­ment now of crit­i­cis­ing things too fast, so cre­ators don’t dare to take big risks any­more.

Rob­o­race is dif­fer­ent. We needed in one shell, the size of a reg­u­lar car, ev­ery­thing that we wanted to stand for. Ini­tially we jug­gled with the idea of us­ing ex­ist­ing chas­sis, or even ex­ist­ing cars, but we im­me­di­ately de­cided that wasn’t the way. This was a unique op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing that made ev­ery­one hold their breath for a minute, that made ev­ery­one un­der­stand im­me­di­ately that it’s some­thing new.

A hard point was that you need to know from a dis­tance there is no hu­man in­side con­trol­ling it. Sec­ondly, it has to be an av­er­age car size, be­cause we want to part­ner with com­pa­nies like Miche­lin, to de­velop spe­cific tyres for au­ton­o­mous cars, we wanted to use Nvidia tech, we wanted to be rel­e­vant for pro­duc­tion. Do­ing any­thing smaller would have missed the point.

I wanted it to be iconic. I mean, I’m a de­signer, I’ve worked with peo­ple like Bu­gatti in the past.

Cre­at­ing some­thing that ap­peals to the eye was way up on my list, which was an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge be­cause we have a lot of mo­tor­sport peo­ple on our en­gi­neer­ing team, aero­dy­nam­i­cists with F1 back­grounds.

We wanted very low drag, ex­tremely high down­force, and we had no reg­u­la­tions to worry about, so I used a lot of floor and put a mas­sive dif­fuser in the back. We have two dif­fer­ent tyre sizes (18in front, 20in back) to give it an ag­gres­sive stance. I was try­ing for some­thing that looked like it’s be­ing sucked onto the tar­mac. We achieved that by an­gling the four sur­faces down­wards from the wheels. Be­cause we don’t have a hu­man in there, the fuse­lage is very low, and that nat­u­rally gives the look of a tiger putting its head down, ready to jump, with its shoul­der blades stand­ing up.

We slimmed it down to a tor­pedo-like cen­tre fuse­lage which made it tricky to pack­age ev­ery­thing in there – we need ac­tu­a­tors, we need bat­ter­ies, the car is very pow­er­ful and needs a cer­tain range. Pack­ag­ing all the sen­sors was tough, too. We’re aim­ing for level 5, ul­ti­mately, which means five LIDARS, plenty of AI cam­eras, front and back radars, ul­tra­sonic sen­sors, sen­si­tive GPS an­ten­nas, and a long list of re­quire­ments about where they can be. In a pro­duc­tion car, you just put a big box on the roof and throw all that stuff in there... on this we wanted it to be in­vis­i­ble.

That’s the unique thing about the Rob­o­race team. We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity for this marvel­lous new tech­nol­ogy of au­ton­omy. We just needed to pull back a lit­tle bit and just be… cool. Let peo­ple em­brace it and say, “Oh my God, what is this?” We have to ac­cept that some en­gi­neers will look at it and think “This could have been faster or this could have been bet­ter.” But that can come later – right now, we just need it to be stun­ning. We’re not in com­pe­ti­tion with oth­ers, this is our halo prod­uct, so it’s not

like there’s a rule­book. We have free­dom.

“This was a unique op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing that made ev­ery­one hold their breath”

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