#19: Daniel Simon,
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”