Roborace: AI will take on the Goodwood hillclimb | CAR Magazine

Roborace: AI will take on the Goodwood hillclimb

Published: 27 June 2018

► Robocar to take on the hill
► Celebrating the event’s Silver Jubilee
► First autonomous car to do it

There’s going to be a very different sort of car going up the Goodwood hill this year. Roborace has announced it’ll be running its autonomous racing car up the hill for 2018’s Festival of Speed – and it’ll be the first driverless car to do so.

The ‘Robocar’ – that’s is actual name – is already heavily linked with Formula E, and often does demonstrations before races. This time, however the car will be taking on the 1.16-mile route usually associated with supercars and classics.

Read our guide to the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed here

‘We are excited that the Duke of Richmond has invited us to make history at Goodwood as we attempt the first ever fully – and truly – autonomous uphill climb using only artificial intelligence,’ said the CEO of Roborace and Audi Formula E driver, Lucas Di Grassi.

What are the levels of autonomous car? We explain

‘I can’t think of a more exciting way to celebrate our Silver Jubilee than to have Roborace attempt the first autonomous race car run up the hill,’ said Charles Gordon-Lennox, the Duke of Richmond and founder of the Festival of Speed. ‘Roborace plays an important role in the future of mobility, challenging public perceptions and providing a platform to advance new technologies. This makes them the perfect partner to undertake this significant feat.’

What about the car?

The Roborace Robocar was first unveiled around a year ago, and acts as a showcase for autonomous and machine learning tech. It weighs 1350kg, and is powered by four 135kW electric motors producing over 500bhp in total – and there’s no space for a driver, obviously.

Roborace says the car will be navigating hay bales and flint walls in real time, using a combination of LIDAR, GPS, cameras and radar. Information collected from those sensors will be then fed to a highly sophisticated Nvidia Drive PX 2 CPU where machine learning software will actually determine what the car should do.

What is LIDAR? CAR explains 

‘The Goodwood hillclimb presents a real challenge for level 4/level 5 autonomous driving systems,’ said Sergey Malygin, chief of software and AI at Arrival. ‘It is a narrow track with complex geometry. Turns and hills with a great deal of tree coverage mean you can’t rely on GPS / RTK signal for localization. Use of all advanced sensors, including LiDARs and cameras with deep learning based computer vision methods are needed to perform well at this course.’

It looks good, doesn’t it?

The original Roborace prototype looked like a LMP1 car full of spare circuit boards, but the finished car wouldn’t be out of place in Tron. And that’s because it was designed Daniel Simon, someone who has worked on sci-fi films such as Oblivion – and Tron.

In the short-term Roborace is about increasing the awareness of autonomous tech, but there’s an entire racing series of Robocars planned in the futre.  Competitors will use identical chassis and power units, but each will be powered by competing AI systems.

On one hand, it makes sense: motorsport is the ideal environment to accelerate and develop technology. After all, it’s where things like traction control, ABS and carbon-fibre construction were perfected. 

But would you want to watch a fight between different algorithms? Do they even need to race on the track, or could the race be conducted virtually? Let us know what you think in the comments.

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's Digital Editor, F1 and sim-racing enthusiast. Partial to clever tech and sports bikes