What’s the point of Roborace?

Credit: Daniel Simon

It’s easy to be annoyed with the nascent Roborace championship. It was announced over a year ago, and yet we’ve heard nothing about anybody taking up the 10 slots for teams, despite rumors that big hitters like Apple and Google would be interested.

It’s also unsure when they’re going to stop testing and start racing. The series has no start date to meet.

There was a point last year when Roborace had been quiet for months and we were all wondering whether it was going to happen or if it was nothing more than vapourware. But things began to pick up a bit at Donington with Formula E pre-season testing when the first Devbot was revealed to the public.

Although there are hurdles that are yet to be overcome there is plenty of reason to be excited about this new Driverless series.

The thing about Roborace is that it requires a different perspective to more traditional racing series because this series has a completely different purpose; it’s not about which software produces the best AI driver, it’s about convincing the public that Driverless cars are the future and are up to dealing with demanding situations.

Racing is a great proving ground for that technology, especially if it’s taking place on the same city streets that we might see driverless cars introduced to over the coming years.

Look at the fatal Joshua Brown Tesla Autopilot crash last year; when a driverless car is involved in an accident and the passenger dies, that tends to dent people’s confidence in the technology. However, we know those accidents are incredibly rare, and statistically speaking Teslas using Autonomous driving systems are 40% less likely to crash than those that aren’t.

Does this mean we’re not going to see any crashes or accidents in Roborace? Nonsense, of course we will! It’s still a motorsport environment, where everything is pushed to the limit to give the best performance even at the risk of failure, as we saw in the recent test at Buenos Aires with the 2nd Devbot crashing into the final chicane. Does it risk embarrassment? Absolutely. But if you don’t put your technology on the line, then what are you going to prove?

One of the things Roborace are pushing is their YouTube documentary series Inside Roborace. For those that haven’t seen it, the monthly installments track the progress that the Roborace team are making. Whilst it gives a good visual on where the technology is, the videos often feel very self-congratulatory and sometimes try a little too hard to turn mundane developments into something epic and emotional.

Overall, though this series is probably the content that Roborace puts the most effort into, sometimes it does seem slightly infrequent.

It’s clear from what’s been said so far that Roborace hopes to attract kids as a large portion of its audience. The advantage is that kids today don’t really know who any racing drivers are, apart from the rare occasions that the media decides to focus on a compatriot F1 driver, more often because of controversy than because of any daring overtaking manoeuvre or wet weather driving brilliance.

At the car’s recent unveiling, some may have noticed Lego Speed Champions logo on the rear of the Roborace car’s tail, which indicates there being some sort of license/partnership between the Danish toy company and the series. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a Roborace set coming into our toy shops and Christmas wish lists in the fullness of time. It’s a canny move which we’re seeing increasingly.

The fact that Roborace, an unproven series which hasn’t even run its final car yet, has managed to secure a deal with Lego so early on in its life is a big coup for its marketing team. Fingers crossed it reaps rewards and gets kids interested in Daniel Simon’s futuristic vision of a driverless car, because who knows; maybe they’ll stick around to watch the ‘outmoded’ drivers tackle the same circuits in Formula E later in the day.

Even if you’re not convinced by Roborace and don’t see the point in it, at least try and see it as an attempt to get youths interested in Motorsport. It doesn’t matter if it’s not ‘real’ Motorsport, because it’s not trying to replace what’s already there – it’s something new. Just like Formula E, it needs a bit of time to grow, perfect its format and find its feet.