Formula E and Roborace: A new era of Motorsport

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A new eco-compliant motorsport is coming to the world’s city centres. But as Paul Sillers reveals, winning races isn’t just about being the fastest competitor.

Until recently, motor racing was all about speed – a high- octane mix of petrol-guzzling, eardrum splitting cars. But the world is changing.

The noise and fuel-burn of high performance cars doesn’t always align with the corporate sponsors who, in this age of transparent CSR and inquisitive shareholders, are ever-conscious of demonstrating eco-sensibilities by sponsoring sports that are congruent with the environment. Some say motor racing is due for a tune-up. Cue Formula E – the world’s first fully electric racing series. The inaugural season started in Beijing in 2014 and it’s a world away from Formula 1. No CO2 emissions, no deafening noise, and all the action takes place in city centres, not racetracks. Significantly, Formula E cars are basically all the same but there’s a limited supply of electricity. The race is won by using cunningly formulated algorithms to use energy efficiently. Braking, for example, recovers energy that tops up the battery.

The inaugural Formula E season was a huge success.” Its main objective was to bring electric cars closer to the people and make them more accessible,” says Alejandro Agag, Formula E’s CEO.

The E in Formula E stands for Energy, Environment and Entertainment – and the official body, FIA, describes the championship as “a fusion of engineering, technology, sport, science, design, music and entertainment – all combining to drive the change towards an electric future”.

Denis Sverdlov, Kinetic founder (L) and Alejandro Agag, head of Formula E (R)
Denis Sverdlov, Kinetic founder (L) and Alejandro Agag, head of Formula E (R)

DRIVERLESS RACING

Now, imagine if you could take Formula E and throw in some extra cool ingredients. What if you could mash up Formula E with driverless cars to create a new eco-friendly racing paradigm that adds strategy, Artificial Intelligence, crowdsourcing and social media into the mix? That’s the vision of Denis Sverdlov, chief executive of Kinetik, the company behind Roborace which is the driverless version of Formula E. Mr Sverdlov is also Roborace’s founder and CEO, and I posed some questions to him surrounding the objectives and processes underpinning driverless electric car racing.

WHAT WERE THE MOTIVATING FACTORS FOR SETTING UP ROBORACE?

Advances in driverless and electric capabilities in the last five years have been extraordinary but the everyday consumer is still not seeing the benefit of that; I believe that one day in the near future all our cars will be driverless and electric. Roborace will act as a catalyst by making driverless cars a part of everyday life.

ARE YOU TRYING TO CONVERT THE FORMULA 1 AUDIENCE OR ARE YOU AIMING AT A NEW GENERATION?

I don’t think we are competing with them. What we are doing is looking at motorsport from another dimension. Formula 1 fans will be interested in the race because it builds upon Formula E’s success in transforming motorsport, and we also expect that a new generation of tech enthusiasts, and the enormous online gaming community around the world, will be excited because Roborace will showcase the latest technological innovation.

Formula E motor racing
Formula E motor racing

HOW ABOUT PLANS TO BUILD SPECTATOR ENGAGEMENT?

Given that we are working on one of the most technologically advanced sporting events in history. Our audience will demand not only the most engaging, beautiful content and access through social media but ground-breaking online experiences. The opportunity we have created by allowing a crowdsourced team is already attracting huge interest from all over the world and we envisage being able to offer every fan a chance to test their technical ability against the world’s greatest minds by writing their own driving algorithms.

SO HOW DOES ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) FEATURE?

There are two ways of looking at AI – one is pre-programming tasks normally requiring human intelligence such as visual perception and decision making. This is traditional AI. The other option is machine learning, to create a car that can adapt to every single turn, to use the information fed back by the car’s real time sensors, the other cars around it and more to see how it can improve in real time. For example, the car could realise that if it hits a corner at 189 mph it can continue without spinning and losing the optimum racing line, but at 190 mph it would go off the track.

This level of detail and intensity will provide fascinating viewing and post- race analysis.

AND ROBORACE’S LONGER- TERM OBJECTIVES?

We hope to inspire a new generation of competitors and supporters, whilst at the same time demonstrating the capabilities of driverless electric cars and the positive impact that will have on our society.

Imagine a world with no traffic when all routing is automated efficiently, where a blind person can be driven at the tap of a button and where pollution is all but eradicated by replacing fuel engines. Imagine how many road accidents could be avoided if we removed driver error from the equation.

In Aesop’s Fable. The Tortoise and the Hare, the takeaway was that in any race, the winner is not necessarily the fastest competitor but the one who is able to go the distance with a strategic and consistent approach. Roborace is an unfolding story – a story not just about speed.

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