A New World 4


roboraceThis is the emblem of the latest FIA race series… and it’s appropriate that it looks like it belongs on the mast of a pirate ship, or taped to a lamp post in a dark alley. Those who plot the end of the world need not an arsenal, but a single device… or in this case… a race series. More info on the official Formula E page here.

For the last two years, I’ve wanted desperately to like Formula E. Nevermind that it’s the only race series where race cars are designed NOT to go the full race length (when racers pit, they switch to an entirely different car with fresh batteries) I like the idea of electric cars. In comparison to internal combustion engines, electric drivetrains offer enormous flexibility in terms of packaging. Motors are small. Batteries can be arranged a variety of ways. Cables bend and twist around corners, and send current to individual wheels at… the speed of light. It’s a fantasy world. Yes, the technology still has a long ways to go… but that’s what Formula E is about.

Or I thought that’s what Formula E was about.

But instead of trying to develop a race car that can last a whole race, they have decided to build a race car that can drive itself… yes NO race car driver… again presumably for half a whole race.

Racing just got a whole LOT more boring. Think robot wars are lame… consider watching robots whizz around a race track, appearing momentarily and then disappearing out of site for a minute and a half… again and again. Let’s face it, racing in general seems to be walking a very fine line these days… Action in Formula 1 for example is so minimal that many times the highlights of the race itself are the radio communications between over confident drivers and cautious team management. That… or drivers throwing hats at each other post race. The last time Siri did anything to rouse my interest was… never…

Some of us think the idea of a “stig,” the ultimate, emotionless, race car driver is fun and awesome. I’m telling you it’s hell.

But all this reportedly comes in the name of road going autonomous vehicle technology. That may well be fine and good… but I’ll tell you now, it won’t be long before another flag is flying from the antenna of lifted 12V Cummins trucks, taped to the backside of dingy, greasy gas pumps, stickered in vinyl on the back windows of old american muscle or 90’s sport compacts.
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4 thoughts on “A New World

  • Murray Peterson

    Robot races have the (remote) possibility of being immensely amusing. Think of this scenario: everybody does standard self-driving software design, including all of the safety features like collision avoidance. Now postulate one smart company that designs their software to win races instead, making full use of the fact that their opponent’s cars will brake or do anything to avoid a collision. Somewhat like building a “bull in the china shop” 🙂 That first race would be a *lot* of fun to watch. Sadly, the rules would be changed instantly 🙁

  • Q

    yes… and imagine this technology on real roads. Some of us human beings would happily play the role of “bull in the china shop.”