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Roborace Could Help Test Driverless Technology in Extreme Conditions

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【Summary】On the software development side of the industry, keeping smart vehicles in their comfort zone does not help reinforce its autonomous features. In order to improve reliability (and safety), the vessels must be exposed to a myriad of unfavorable elements that today’s human-driven cars encounter on a daily basis.

Michael Cheng    Nov 19, 2016 5:30 PM PT

When fully autonomous cars leave pilot programs and enter commercial markets, they will first be released in urban cities. This is because the technology relies on clearly marked lanes, updated infrastructure and predictable routes. For individuals living in rural locations that experience rough weather and lack robust roadway systems, it could take longer for driverless vehicles to reach such areas.

The risks of deploying self-driving cars in undeveloped locations are tremendous. Many auto manufacturers are playing it safe (at least, for now) by focusing on conducive environments to reduce unforeseen variables that could cause fatal collisions or severe malfunction. On the software development side of the industry, keeping smart vehicles in their comfort zone does not help reinforce their autonomous features. In order to improve reliability (and safety), the vessels must be exposed to a myriad of unfavorable elements that today's human-driven cars encounter on a daily basis.

With that being said, how do you expose self-driving cars to extreme road conditions and aggressive drivers?

By participating in Roborace.

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Roborace and Autonomous Software Development

Roborace is a circuit that uses autonomous cars. You've never seen anything like it, because this is the first-ever, global championship race that truly pushes the limits of self-driving algorithms. Participating groups will all be using the same cars; therefore, the focus is strictly on developing software that can maneuver the car around the track, while dodging other vehicles in real-time. During the race, engineers will not be able to control the vehicle. After feeding their algorithms in the system, all they can do is sit back and watch their car do its thing.

Denis Sverdlov, founder of Kinetik and CEO of Roborace, expects the event to help streamline the development of driverless software. The complex elements that an autonomous race car must face during the circuit includes the following: overtaking, accelerating or decelerating around tight turns, compliance with race regulations and navigating around slow cars. These challenges must be addressed effortlessly while traveling up to 186 mph.

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Robocar and DevBot

The car that all teams will have at their disposal is the Robocar. Under the hood, the vessel comes with similar specs, when compared to a Formula E car (except for weight, the Robocar weighs up to 250 lbs heavier). The vehicle is loaded with 12 cameras, as well as radar, LIDAR and ultrasonic sensors. The artificial engine processor that will support all of these components is DRIVE PX2 by NVIDIA. It is important to consider that the car does not have a seat for human drivers.

DevBot is the testing unit for developers. The vehicle, which comes with the same set of specs as the Robocar, is designed for groups to run their software and hardware before the race. Unlike the fully autonomous model, DevBot features a small station for human drivers in the cabin.

"While millions of dollars are invested in Formula One cars, the achieved technologies cannot be used in mass-produced cars or on normal roads. However, Roborace is different: it is mainly focused on software design and its results can revolutionize the autonomous car industry," said Steve Arar from All About Circuits.

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