Believe it or not, autonomous race cars will soon be battling it out on the track. As we reported last year, plans are for the Roborace autonomous racing series to run in conjunction with Formula E, starting in the 2016-17 season. Last week, newly-appointed design chief Daniel Simon, who has a diverse background designing concept cars for both global automakers and Hollywood, released the first look at the driverless Roborace car.
The lack of a need for a driver's cockpit has dropped barriers and opened up design freedom, allowing Simon and his team to follow aerodynamics even more closely than on the typical race car. The result, dubbed the Robocar, looks like a streamliner-style fuselage with four massive nostril-fenders optimizing downforce. Those large intakes allow air to flow straight through the body work over top the open floor.
"It was important to us that we generate substantial downforce without unnecessary parts cluttering the car to maintain a clean and iconic look," Simon explains. "This is largely made possible by using the floor as the main aerodynamic device and we are currently developing active body parts that are more organic and seamless than solutions today."
Simon has perhaps the perfect blend of fantasy and reality automotive design experience for the task of creating a new genre of race car. After obtaining a degree in automotive design, he spent several years at Volkswagen working on concept cars and then transitioned into a position at Bugatti, where he worked on Veyron special editions and conceptual Veyron successors. After that, Simon went Hollywood, designing fictional vehicles for feature films, including the iconic Tron Light Cycle in Tron: Legacy. He's also styled F1 racing liveries and done the design work on the Lotus C-01 motorcycle. So he's worked around some of the world's most powerful cars and spent plenty of time thinking completely outside of conventional reality.
"We're living in a time where the once-separated worlds of the automobile and artificial intelligence collide with unstoppable force," says Simon. "My goal was to create a vehicle that takes full advantage of the unusual opportunities of having no driver without ever compromising on beauty. Racing engineers and aerodynamicists have worked with me from the beginning to strike that balance. The Roborace is as much about competition as it is entertainment. Therefore – and quite unusual in today's racing world – beauty was very high on our agenda and we work hard to merge the best performance with stunning styling."
Similar to how Formula E started with each team competing in the same Spark-Renault SRT_01E, Roborace will be a single-model race with every team running the Robocar. The competitive aspect will come from each team tweaking the software algorithms and AI technologies to gain the advantage on the track.
In announcing the new series last November, Roborace and Kinetik explained that 10 teams, each with two cars, will run the hour-long races during the course of the Formula E championship season. Roborace events will be held prior to the Formula E races on the same circuits in cities around the globe.
The Robocar is still a conceptual work in progress and no specs were released with the first images. We do know that it will feature an electric powertrain and connected platform.
"I passionately believe that the future of cars is about software – driverless, electric and connected – and Roborace will help to make that a reality," says Roborace CEO Denis Sverdlov. "It's gaming, motorsport, technology and entertainment all rolled into one."