By: Zach Seybert, @zlseybert
The 2017 Consumer Electronics show just wrapped up in Las Vegas last week, and the tech world has been buzzing. Among the multitude of new technology that consumers can expect this year is increased access to virtual reality (VR), new wearable fitness trackers, the thinnest TVs ever, and many others.
In the past year or so, drones have become increasingly popular. From personal use creating fun birds-eye view videos, to drones getting some odd publicity in the case of Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Trevor Bauer’s injury, and even the Drone Racing League, these pilot-less machines have taken the consumer world by storm. Building on this popularity, and utilizing technological advances, a new league has been formed – Roborace.
For those unfamiliar with the Drone Racing League, contestants are essentially pilots of individual drones that race through a series of checkpoints in areas that one would otherwise not think about holding an event. For instance, the DRL held an event at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium in which contestants flew their drones not only through the seating area, but also through the concourse and warehouse areas of the stadium. There was even a worn down warehouse that was converted to a DRL course. The pilots are stationed away from the course and navigate their drones through the course via remote control and eyewear that allows them a first person point of view through the course from the drone’s camera.
Unlike the DRL, Roborace is a motosport championship in which “drivers” navigate the same tracks the FIA Formula E Championship uses. In what will be the first global championship for driverless cars, Roborace will be made up of ten teams, each with two driverless cars competing in the races. The teams will have to develop their own real-time computing algorithms and artificial intelligence technologies to power the car.
The car, which is aptly dubbed the “Robocar,” is the world’s first driverless electric racing car. According to the Roborace website, it was designed by Daniel Simon, who is known for his work on Hollywood sci-fi projects such as Tron: Legacy, Oblivion and Captain America.
Although Roborace was initially announced in 2015, with the goal of launching during the 2016-17 Formula E racing season, there have been some minor speed bumps along the way (no pun intended). Back in November, Roborace took a step towards its inaugural season by releasing a video of its test car, DevBot, completing 12 laps on its own at the Formula E race in Morocco.
Although Roborace already had two global partners, both in the tech space, the league took another step towards legitimacy with the announcement of Michelin Motorsports becoming its official tire partner. According to Tire Business, Michelin will use its “next-generation” road-going tires for the series. The partnership goes beyond just supplying the tires, though. Michelin will also assist Roborace in the development of its car, which Roborace has been testing for the past few months at Michelin’s testing facility in Ladoux, France. The other two partners are: Nvidia, which will provide the Robocar’s A.I. brain with its Drive PX2 technology, and Charge, which will supply all power electronics.
Taking the league a step further, it will be interesting to see if it adopts a similar sponsorship portfolio as NASCAR, with logos covering almost the entire exterior of the vehicle. Given the increase in driverless technology (Uber experimenting with driverless rides, drones, etc.), the various tech companies looking to break into the sports sponsorship realm could potentially be chomping at the bit for Roborace to launch.