Roborace car on pavement courtesy of Roborace and Daniel Simon

While most of the attention around autonomous vehicles has centered on “everyday drivers,” there is one effort that goes off in an entirely different direction. An offshoot of Formula E, Roborace aims to launch a parallel series of races conducted entirely without human drivers. The effort has taken longer than planned, but is getting closer to reality. At MWC in Barcelona this week, Roborace showed off the complete design of its first race car. Until now, it has been using awkward-looking “devbots” that have a seat for a driver to test its software and hardware designs.

This is not your father’s EV

The aptly named Robocar features a total of 33 sensors — a remarkable five lidars, 18 ultrasonic sensors, two radars, two optical speed sensors, and six cameras. I’m guessing there are a lot of lidar units because they are the newer, lower-profile, smaller-field-of-view versions; the big spinning roof units wouldn’t work well on a high-speed, battery-powered race car. The sensor data is fed into sponsor Nvidia’s car-friendly Drive PX 2 mini-supercomputer.

Showing how much computer tech is in the Robocar, Roborace chose to unveil at MWC 2017

Ditching the driver will help the Robocar when it comes to performance. It is expected to have a top speed of about 200 mph, powered by its four 300kW motors and a 540kWh battery. Doing the math, it can’t run flat out too long, but it should be long enough to have some exciting races. The series founders have said that they hope to feature racing in two modes. The first will be one where the cars try to avoid contact, while the second is supposed to be “no holds barred.” We’ll see how it winds up, as it is clearly taking far longer to get the robot races off the ground than originally envisioned.

The Robocar was designed by Roborace’s Chief Designer Daniel Simon. Simon has led design teams on real cars for Volkswagen and Bugatti, as well as on movie vehicles for films including Tron: Legacy and Captain America: The First Avenger. While the design for the Robocar is now complete, I suspect that the internals haven’t actually been sorted out yet. The company hasn’t said when it expects to have a running car, focusing its recent track-related news on the progress of its Devbot 1 and Devbot 2 (pictured below) that it raced head to head last week. Notably, one hit the wall while pushing its limits, but one also successfully avoided a dog that wandered on track.

The Devbots look about how you'd expect, mostly frame and electronics

Gentlemen, start your IDEs

Similar to the first year of Formula E, every team will start with the same cars. All the differentiation will be in the software. So, the race car drivers of Roborace will be the programmers. For anyone who thinks completing the coding challenges of Udacity’s Self-driving Car Engineer nanodegree is fun, programming one of these Robocars to win should be a dream come true.

Image credits: Roborace / Daniel Simon

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