A little piece of history has gone down at the Monteblanco racetrack in Spain, with the world's first fully autonomous car race completed last week. Two teams pitted code and cars against one another, with Team Arrival beating out the Technical University of Munich to take the first ever Roborace win.
The Robocars in question are no joke – 300-kW (402-hp) electric race machines capable of speeds over 320 km/h (199 mph) without drivers on board. Using five LIDARs, two radars, 18 ultrasonic sensors, GNSS satellite positioning, six cameras, two optical speed sensors and Nvidia Drive PX2 processing units, the cars drive themselves according to algorithms programmed by each race team.
The eight-lap race format is a bit weird. To cut down on crashes in these early pioneering days there's no overtaking outside the main straight, and overtaking is only achieved through mutual agreement. If a car is close enough to the car in front in the "trigger zone" before the final turn, it requests an overtake from the car in front, which is required to move over and let it go past.
It's not what you'd call a great spectacle at this point. The cars go quick enough, but without the element of human risk, daring and otherworldly skill pushing the cars past their limits of traction, it's hard to say why anyone outside the autonomous development industry would tune in and watch. Indeed, you could easily argue this kind of driverless racing could be developed much more cheaply the same way human racers are developed: on a go-kart track at lower speeds.
Either way, the money's been spent, the first race has been run, and you can see the "highlights" below. Congratulations to team Arrival and the Roborace series on their world first.
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