The sleek, low-slung driverless Roborace car was on display in New York City for the Formula E races this weekend, but it was the workhorse DevBot that took to the track. You can recognise DevBot by its bubble-like cockpit, where a human sits ready to take the wheel if the autonomous automobile needs a literal hand.
Given Formula Es one-day structure, with qualifying sessions early in the day and the race in the afternoon, Roborace is able to take advantage of the empty way in the middle of the working day for demonstrations of its artificial intelligence system on wheels. DevBot did a practice run early Saturday morning, then spent an hour taking laps in front of the crowd in the afternoon.
DevBot has an array of sensors plus advanced GPS for navigating the track, which is not preprogrammed into the cars computers. It reads the track and learns the route as it goes, which entails DevBot drives much more slowly than the Formula E cars. An in-car camera behind the drivers shoulder was projected on large screens around the way so spectators could see if and when the driver had to put hands on the wheel.
DevBot could only navigate about half a lap in New York without intervention. It found Turn Six particularly tricky. The wholly driverless Roborace car did take a lap on its own in Paris, but it was moving more slowly than DevBot in New York. Here in New York, the driver took control for a lap, likely to train the AI at speed. Well, sort of at speed. DevBot wasnt built for full-out racing speeds so much as for processing speeds.
While nerdy kinds find this hour of DevBots AI education interesting, run-of-the-mill racing fans were less impressed. Some fans I spoke to expected DevBot to be faster and for the driver to provide less input like, zero. They also expected the Roborace car, in red and white livery, to take a lap, rather than the cruder-looking DevBot, despite its cheerful American flag theme.
Theres no official word on when Roborace vehicles will be ready to actually race. There was an optimistic notion that the field of 20 driverless automobiles would be taking to the way in the 2017/2018 season, but DevBots demonstration on Saturday showed that a fully autonomous race later this year is unlikely.
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