MWC17: Autonomous motorsports will make self-driving cars safer

Here at Mobile World Congress, we've heard about the latest advancements in autonomous racing vehicles and why it will make self-driving cars safer for the rest of us.

Motorsports has always been about pushing the boundaries of vehicles to make them faster, stronger, lighter, and safer. Many of the innovations which happen in this competitive space make their way into road cars used by those of us without the nerve or skill to be professional racing drivers.

Innovations which pass from Formula 1 to your everyday road car is known as the ‘F1 trickle down effect’ but has seen ups and downs. Back in 2008, Honda exited F1 because it decided the investment was no longer boosting the company’s business elsewhere. Now smaller hybrid engines are focused on maximising efficiency, Honda announced it would return to F1 with technology advancements from the race track improving the company’s vehicles off it to keep the manufacturer competitive.

Technology created without a human driver on the race track may end up saving real lives on the road

Anti-lock brakes, traction control, active suspension, carbon fibre, semi-automatic transmission… these are just some of many examples where the F1 trickle down effect has benefitted road vehicles. Now we’re entering a new era for vehicles, and the motorsport industry is taking its role seriously in ensuring self-driving cars perform well in demanding situations on the race track to ensure they’re able to cope in day-to-day situations.

Formula-E is the lesser-known sibling of Formula 1 which uses electric cars over vehicles using combustible fuel. "We will only buy electric cars when they're cheaper and better than combustion cars," says Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula-E. And of course, it will be advancements made to Formula-E vehicles which are going to get us there.

Agag highlights the responsibility of the technology community to come up with solutions for world problems such as climate change. We all know we should be using an electric vehicle, but it will take more than just knowing we’re doing our part for us to make that switch (and investment.)

Many of the innovations which happen in this competitive space make their way into road cars 

Roborace takes Formula-E to another level with not just electric cars, but autonomous electric cars. When you take vehicles racing without a human driver, they need to be able to make split-second decisions. “Imagine two robot cars approaching a corner at high speed,” says Denis Sverdlov, CEO of Roborace. “Who is going to brake first?”

The interesting question, Sverdlov says, is how long will it take us to teach machines how to perform better than humans? Robocar has developed their own vehicle to advance this mission and it’s what you’d expect from a Formula 1 car and more with the ability to process 24 trillion operations per second. It’s also quite the looker being designed by Daniel Simon, who is known for his work on Hollywood blockbusters such as Tron, Oblivion, and Captain America. These cars will help to improve the perception of self-driving cars, so it’s just as important to get the designs right as well as the performance.

Rather than let developers test with the full Robocar, a ‘DevBot’ version is available to allow development teams to build their software and help perfect autonomous systems. Unlike the Robocar, the DevBot also features a cabin to allow humans to be inside the car to understand how it reacts and feels in real-time on a race track.

The role of motorsports in advancing road technology and improving public perception is becoming more vital than ever as we approach the era of driverless cars. Technology created without a human driver on the race track may end up saving real lives on the road, so no pressure.

What are your thoughts on the role of motorsports in developing autonomous technologies? Let us know in the comments. in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their IoT use-cases? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.

The show is co-located with the AI & Big Data Expo, Cyber Security & Cloud Expo and Blockchain Expo so you can explore the entire ecosystem in one place.

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