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Self-driving Roborace cars will go “completely crazy”

Roborace boss and reigning Formula E champ Di Grassi explains his vision

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“The industry in the long term will have a lot of autonomous cars,” explains Roborace CEO and reigning Formula E champion Lucas Di Grassi. “I believe that we need a niche in motorsport to promote this kind of technology.”

A pause. And then a smile. “I don’t believe in racing with them, I believe you can go completely crazy. When there are no lives at stake, you can really go and do any kind of challenge you want.”

Welcome then, to a future that Top Gear sincerely hopes will see AI-programmed electric supercars duke it out for the mirth of humankind. Think The Running Man, only with less humans and more autonomous electric racecars. Now that’ll hit the spot.

“It could be anything,” Di Grassi confirms. “I don’t believe it would be exciting to the public to watch AI race itself. But I think it would be exciting to see what AI could do in extreme scenarios. Basically, anything that motorsport cannot do, to showcase how precise and good this AI technology is.”

There’s a follow-up point once the AI Roboracers have finished destroying each other for amusement (we hope). And that’s to encourage the growth of autonomous technology that’ll benefit actual, real human drivers.

“The idea is to create something, be the first one, put it out there and have OEMs and others show us what they can do. We want to develop new talents, new engineers and new technology. Safety technology that you cannot really try on the road at high speeds,” he said.

He mentions how the world of hypercars has exploded of late. “You have so many cars on the market that have more than 1,000bhp,” he said. “I drove the LaFerrari, the 918, the P1… all of them, the acceleration – after two seconds you’re over the speed limit. So how do you drive 1,000bhp cars? You go to a track, and I think AI systems will allow amateur drivers to extract much more of the car than they currently can.”

He maps out an idea where the car does a hot lap, shows you braking points, the correct lines and so forth. And also, an AI system that is always monitoring your movements to keep you out of the Armco when you’re in control. Nissan has suggested the next GT-R could pioneer this sort of stuff.

“It’s just a niche that I think is interesting,” he said. “In Formula E we cannot test between seasons, so I use a lot of my time to teach myself how these systems work. I want to see when AI starts to beat me.”

And, has it? “Not yet. It’s about 12 to 15 per cent slower, but already at the level of a good amateur…”

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