The Self-Driving Race Car

The Self-Driving Race Car

– I got an email that said, “Hi, we’re developing a
fully autonomous race car. “Would you like to be driven around
the most famous track in Britain “by a computer?” Sure. – Roborace is an organisation
that specialises in autonomous racing. We develop our own autonomous race cars, and we run a competition
for teams to enter to develop their own
autonomous driving software. We’re basically trying to further autonomous driving technology
through competition. – Now, I’m not used to anything like this. I have never been driven at speed
around the track by a human. And I’ve never been driven at
all by a fully autonomous car. This is the DevBot 2, designed
to take a human passenger. Now, the stats aren’t spectacular
by supercar standards. 362 horsepower from two electric motors, top speed somewhere
around 135 miles an hour, although, as I’m a civilian,
I’m limited to 60, and it will take 4.1 seconds to get there. But, this is only the development version. This is the version that
still carries a human, unlike its sleeker cousin over there. – Behind me is Robocar. This is fully autonomous,
there’s no room for a human. Whereas, the DevBot
gives us the opportunity for human versus machine type challenges. It’s actually got the same powertrain
on the rear axle as DevBot. It’s just also got the same powertrain again
on the front axle, so it’s four wheel drive,
it’s got twice the power. It’s the car we use
for our top speed run. We’ve actually had it to up to 299 kph. The sensors on the two cars
are actually the same. We use a military grade GPS,
accurate up to about two centimetres, so the car knows exactly where it is. We’ve got LIDARs, basically on the
corners of the car and on the sides to position where all of the objects
are around the car. The third is using cameras, and that’s for using stereo
vision to judge depth, basically, in the same way
a human does with their eyes. – So, I’m about to go for a lap
of Silverstone’s National Circuit, just over one and a half miles, which will take around 90 seconds
from a standing start. – Once we’ve created a
map of the track to say, “These are the edges, this is
where you’re allowed to go,” we load that into the car. It then has algorithms to
determine its optimum racing line. It then chooses what speed it can go and when it needs to brake,
when it needs to hit the throttle, based on accelerations. And, it knows what it can
achieve from the tyres. – Now, I know, because I’ve
never been on a track before, that, on that first turn,
my brain is going to think that we are coming in too hot,
and it’s not going to turn. And, I am just going to
need to have some faith that the system is working,
and I don’t need to take over control because I am almost certainly
a worse driver than the computer in this car. – Basically, when you’re trying to do
something for the first time, you need to be very safety-conscious. We have full live telemetry,
so we can see exactly what the car is doing at all times. And, we have linked to that
what we call a safe-stop system, basically a button that
can turn the car off at a moment’s notice from anywhere. The car can also know to turn itself off. If it determines it’s too far
off the line it’s supposed to be on, and it doesn’t think it can get back there, it it will shut itself down. – Moving to drive now, and
then moving out onto the track. – We’ve had a few crashes
over the last year, and this has been our
first year of competitions. One of the crashes that we had was,
basically, a hardware issue. The hardware failed, and
that led to the car believing it was in a different place
to where it actually was. So, it acted accordingly to go
to where it thought it should be, but that was based on bad data which then meant the car
hit the wall. – All right, I’m lined up, and I’m going to take my hands
off the wheel, and put them here, and take my feet off the pedals.
and put them on the foot rest. To be clear, we are not going to be going
over 100kph here, 60mph, because there’s a human in the car,
and that’s what we’re limited to. But, acceleration, braking,
and G forces, not limited. Okay, ready to go. – All right, Tom, we’re all good our side, so if you are happy, we’ll
get ready for launch. – Happy is a relative term!
But yes, I am ready to go. – All right, copy that, so hold tight. We’ll launch in three, two, one. [engine revving] – Okay. All right. And, I’m being assured that this car is not just following
a pre-programmed line. It knows the best racing line to take,
of course, it knows the track. It’s been taught where it should go, but it is reacting in real time
to the track conditions, to the fact that it’s slightly slippery
because of rain earlier. And the fact there is — oh boy! The fact there is — Oh, that is a perfect racing line. The fact there is about 70 kilos of
terrified wet meat sat in the driver’s seat, because that’s all I am right now. It’s the computer doing everything here, and it sounds like an electric car. The steering wheel is just moving for me. This is astonishing. – We’ve actually had various event formats through our first year of competition. We’ve had a race with
multiple cars on the track on that same circuit
like a traditional race. And, we’ve also had
competitions that are far more on a time trial basis, just
trying to find different formats and see how autonomous
racing can really work. – And then, final straight
towards the finish, here we go. – From a hardware point of view,
the cars are identical. We, as a company, run all of the cars. The teams, basically,
just provide a driver. In normal motor sport, that
would be a human being. In this case, it’s a few
thousand lines of software code. – That is amazing. – So, if you program
your car to go faster through a corner and get a
better exit from a corner, you will be quicker on the straight.
You will be able to overtake. – Woo! – And, that’s really what it’s all about. We really wanted everyone to focus
on the autonomous driving rather than the car setup. – Thank you, returning to base. – The AI does have
information given to it on where the other car is,
what the other car is doing. But, at the moment, that’s mainly
being used for safety purposes. We can control the car
from the control room, but we do that, as a company,
for safety reasons. The teams are not given any access. Once the car has started its race, it’s only what they’ve already programmed. – So, that was a lot of fun. That was wonderful. I had a great time, but I also feel
just a little bit underwhelmed because it didn’t feel
like there was any risk there. And, of course, there’s no risk there. I’m a civilian, they’re
going to limit the car, they’re not going to push it to the edge. But, that’s because there’s
a person in the car, and that’s what motor sport is about. Motor sport is about humans pushing
themselves as close to the limit, as close to the red line, as they can. And, without that element of risk,
without that person in the car, I don’t know if it’ll work as a sport. Roborace is gambling that they can
move the audience’s attention from people in the car
to people in the pits. And, yeah, that was a lot of fun, but it’s a heck of a gamble. – The whole business model
relies on a successful sport, which relies on people watching it. So, it has to be entertaining. We’re kind of a strange mix
between a technology development
and an entertainment business. And, I think there is, actually a lot
of human element still within this. Although it’s machines racing, it’s people creating the
code for those machines. Something that’s forgotten
in traditional motor sport, in a Formula One team,
there’s a thousand people, and you just only hear about
the two that were in the car. So, here, all the human stories are really about those people in the background,
how they’ve coded the system, and they’re still pushing the limit. So, it’s just, arguably, in a safer manner because there isn’t a human in
the car if it does go wrong. – Thank you so much to
all the team at Roborace. Find out more about them by
putting down the description. My heart’s still going. That was only 60!
It felt so much more than 60.

About the Author: Michael Flood


  1. Just to be clear: this isn't sponsored, and Roborace had no control over the video. I'd declare it clearly if anything like that ever happened!

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