Self-Driving F1 Racecar Robots Are Coming In 2016

During its GTC 2016 keynote address, Nvidia unveiled a new Formula E event dubbed Roborace. As its name implies, this new racing class will feature fully autonomous cars powered by Drive PX 2 supercomputers. If that’s not crazy enough, the first race is expected to kick off this season. Blimey.

The FIA Formula E Championship is a class of auto racing that uses only electric-powered cars. Now it’s throwing robots into the mix. Roborace (we’d work on that name, fellas) will see 10 teams compete with 20 driverless full-size cars powered by Drive PX 2. For the uninitiated, this is Nvidia’s new self-driving platform that packs in 12 CPU cores and two Pascal GPUs for eight teraflops of computing power.

Explains Nvidia: “The supercomputer-in-a-box is vital to deep learning and trains artificial intelligence to adapts to different driving conditions, including asphalt, rain and dirt.”

Each team will command two cars each. The vehicles weigh in at just under 1000kg which is roughly in line with other electric Formula 1 cars. The vehicle pictured above was designed by Daniel Simon who knows a thing or two about sleek sci-fi aesthetics: he also created the light cycles in Tron Legacy.

The cockpit-free design has allowed Nvidia’s engineers to house the Drive PX 2 computer without compromising the size or weight of the vehicle. On the downside, this means you can’t go for a ride on autopilot if you were crazy enough to trust a robotic racecar.

While the cars in the race will all be identical, each team has the freedom to develop their own software algorithms which should result in different tactics being deployed on the tarmac. Doubtlessly, there will be plenty of spills and crashes in the first few seasons as the platform finds its feet; thankfully, with no human injuries.

Nvidia hasn’t revealed much about the car’s specifications or what its top speed will be. We’d imagine not very fast. Indeed, Nvidia is highlighting the “intrigue” of robot competition and “earth-friendly” alternative energy racing over performance grunt. On the other hand, one of the slides we were shown included the phase “blazing fast”, so who knows?

To be honest, we’re not sure what revheads will make of this. While self-driving cars are certainly cool, part of the appeal of F1 is the spectacle of occasional accidents. Will removing this element of human peril lessen the sport’s appeal? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Gizmodo travelled to GTC 2015 in San Jose, California as a guest of Nvidia.

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