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Rise of the machines: robots to race in Formula E next year

That is not a typo. Driverless ROBORACE series to support E-Prix events in 2016

Good news! The bosses behind Formula E and investment company Kinetik have found a way of keeping racing drivers 100 per cent safe. The solution? Remove them from vehicles entirely.

Yep, the FIA has announced that a new autonomous series will support its electric racing championship from some point next season, with the eventual aim of holding hour-long, driver-free races before each E-Prix. Really.

Described as “a global race series for driverless electric cars”, organisers are hoping ROBORACE will capitalise on the self-navigating technology being developed by manufacturers around the world.

The plan is for ten teams to run two driverless cars each, although it sounds as though races will be won and lost on the pit lane (no ‘Just like F1, then?’ jokes please) as all the cars on the grid will be mechanically identical. If you’re a little bemused, you’re not alone.

However, founders believe that the series will offer more than just an amusing spectacle for Formula E fans. “We passionately believe that, in the future, all of the world’s vehicles will be assisted by AI and powered by electricity, thus improving the environment and road safety,” says Kinetik’s Denis Sverdlov.

“ROBORACE is a celebration of revolutionary technology and innovation that humanity has achieved in that area so far.”

The potential for autonomous technology is road-going cars is admittedly huge: earlier in the year, Audi reported that a driverless version of the RS7 had posted better lap times than pro drivers at California’s Sonoma raceway with “uniform precision”.

However, this is precisely why so many people doubt AI’s compatibility with motorsport. Not only is the human element removed from the equation, the decision making will be hidden away “using real-time computing algorithms”.

Which, as rallying calls go, is hardly Braveheart-esque. If you’ve got identical cars, and effectively identical ‘drivers’, where will races be decided?

Be that as it may, there is clearly enough enthusiasm to give the concept a try. No details about the size, speed or design of the cars have been released just yet, although Formula E’s chief exec Alejandro Aga says he is “very excited” about the platform they could create.

“I believe there is great potential for us to unearth the next big idea through the unique crowd-sourced contest.”

Top Gear has a suggestion: instead of autonomous cars, build humanoid pilots. Surely there’s a market for watching Star Wars’ C-3PO battling Red Dwarf’s Kryten around the streets Monte Carlo?

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