Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tech Tuesday: Robocars + AI = The Indianapolis Robocar 500?

Jimmy Clark and team at The Brickyard.
18 years ago I had a chance to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. For anyone who has ever grew up as a follower of the Indy 500, this experience is a must at least once in your lifetime. There's nothing quite like seeing the actual cars that your favorite Indy competitors drove across the finish line back in their day. For those of us who lived through the Sixties the names of Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti have been indelibly stamped on my memory. And what a thrill for me when I stood alongside my favorite racer's #82, the Lotus Ford of Jimmy Clark.

So what a strange notion to think that one day these cars might no longer have drivers. Is this really possible? Will the Indy 500 serious see a field of driverless robocars?

Well, driverless racing might come sooner than you. According to a recent story on Mashable, "Roborace, the Formula E-partnered autonomous racing series, just unveiled its first self-driving race car at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. It's called the Robocar, and it doesn't look like anything we've ever seen before. If the appearance is jarring, just consider how much space you save when there's no need for a cockpit to hold a driver's seat (or, for that matter, a driver)."

"Let us know when you're ready to pit."
There's already been a race between a pair of these AI-controlled Nvidia-powered cars. The machines aren't quite as robust as today's Indy cars which can go zero-to-60 in two seconds and rocket down the Brickyard straightaway at over 220 mph. The roboracers putzed along at 115 mph in comparison. Nevertheless, the first human-driven cars to race at Indy weren't that fast either. You had to be able to go 75 mph to qualify.

The real question is whether humans will want to watching racing in which there are no humans involved. If fans won't watch, sponsors won't sponsor. If no one will pay for the machines, there won't be that many people eager to play. Maybe Stanford and MIT and Carnegie Mellon will compete against one another for status, but ... I dunno. It's hard to imagine NCAA Robocar Racing.

Are NASCAR fans more devoted to the drivers or to the brands that sponsor them? Will the fans show up after we remove the drivers from this equation?

I do believe it would be interesting to see what happens when the cars themselves have brains and continue to learn as they gain racing experience.

Much more can be said... In the meantime, life goes on. 

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