autonomous

RoboRace needs one thing – some human competition

Roborace is a new series for autonomous racing cars - no drivers required!

UNLESS you were fed oversteer with your alphabetti spaghetti from an early age it’s very hard to make it as a professional racing driver.

There are exceptions to the rule but generally to make the grade in top flight motor sport you need to have a sizeable amount of raw talent, a proven track record of working your way up through increasingly scary single-seaters, total fearlessness about losing it on a slippery right-hander and a considerable amount of cash – and even then you might get a politely worded letter of rejection from Sauber.

But it’s going to be even harder with the latest racing series that’s being launched, because it’s so tech-savvy that it dispenses with those pesky human drivers entirely.

I suppose RoboRace was inevitable in an age where you can do your shopping by drone and Donald Trump is forever contemplating ordering a nuclear launch from one of his golf courses. The series has a very cool name and vehicles that can crack 200mph but there won’t be any split-second decisions on whether to take the racing line through chicanes.  It’s not even a remote control affair; all the racing will be done on engineers’ laptops beforehand, programming the cars to strut their stuff autonomously.

The tech itself is a smart move. Back in the 1950s Jaguar made a big deal about its Le Mans-proven disc brakes filtering down to its XK150s and Mk2s and it’s the same story here; if the future of driving really is autonomous, then surely having it honed in the white heat of motor sport is a good idea? I know the Government’s very keen on self-driving cars, but there are still all sorts of logistical headaches to clear up, and sorting it on a race track is safer (and more fun) than doing it on the M57.

But what I’d like to see isn’t a load of autonomous cars racing each other; it’s man versus machine, which is surely what all motor sport is about in the first place. Who wants to see a load of glorified laptops dancing around one another when they can watch one robo-racer set a time around a circuit or up a hillclimb, and then see if any of their human-operated counterparts can beat it?

I bet most kids in a Honda Type-R reckon they could kick a robot’s arse at a track day – and in doing so, they’ll be helping to improve the future of driving for the rest of us. Bring it on.

Advertisements

Why re-testing the over-70s isn’t the key to safer roads

Even autonomous cars like this Volvo cannot completely eliminate accident risks

ROGER Daltrey hoped he’d die before he got old but I reckon there’s loads of things to look forward to.

Cheaper car insurance, for starters. Opportunities aplenty to play golf or go on coach tours of North Wales. Or, if you’re my recently-retired father, all that free time to mend the MGB in the garage.

But Roger – who’s still very much alive and well at the age of 73 – probably won’t be looking forward to doing another driving test. Yet he and just about every other motorist over the age of 70 might be forced to, if a petition that’s already gained more than 250,000 signatures is submitted to Westminster and taken seriously.

The circumstances that prompted it were truly tragic – an 85-year-old pensioner out for a drive in his classic Mercedes-Benz SL momentarily got confused, hit the wrong pedal, and ended up killing a pedestrian. The petition it prompted is calling for all motorists over the age of 70 to be given mandatory retests every three years, to prevent similar incidents ever happening again.

I’ve been following the issue with interest ever since this truly horrific incident happened back in 2012. I’ve every sympathy for Ben Brooks-Button, the widower of the woman killed and the man who nobly started this petition – but I’m not sure mandatory retests are the answer.

Statistically speaking if the suits at Whitehall are going to retest anyone it’s the generation I was part of not all that long ago – the 18-24s, with their Calvis Harris MP3s booming out of their mum’s borrowed Corsas. Nearly a quarter of them have a crash within two years of passing the driving test. It’s even worse if you’re under the age of 19; not only do you still get ID’d going into nightclubs but you’re involved in nine per cent of the nation’s big collisions, despite only making up 1.5 percent of the motoring population.

So should they be made to redo the test every three years? Of course not, and with the possible exception of anyone who works in sales and has an Audi A3 or A4 nor should anyone else. What we should be offering are courses that don’t cost a fortune, and a campaign that encourages people to think of driving as a skill to be honed and perfected, like tennis or playing a piano. We’re never going to get rid of all the incidents on Britain’s roads (and that includes ones caused by autonomous cars, so anyone suggesting that as answer can get back in their box), but we can bring them down by encouraging people to sharpen their skills.

Maybe the Government can hire Roger Daltrey to do the jingle. I hope I drive before I get old?

Tesla should keep at it with autonomous cars

Tesla is one of the champions of autonomously guided cars

THE LIST of inappropriate things to do during a Harry Potter movie isn’t very long.

My contribution to the ranking happened during a screening of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in one of those old-fashioned cinemas that stops for refreshment intervals mid-flick. The brick-like Nokia in my coat pocket buzzed and – in a moment straight out of Trigger Happy TV – I answered it and rather loudly described to a mate how rubbish I thought the film was. Offending about 60 nearby children in the process.

But it turns out becoming a cinematic pariah is a fairly safe thing to do during a Harry Potter film. Driving a Tesla while watching one, as you might have seen in the news last week, apparently isn’t.

The story – the Tesla incident, not JK Rowling’s fictitious wizard – goes that a chap driving a Model S was so confident of the electric luxury saloon’s autonomous driving mode that he allegedly fired up the in-car TV screen for a quick diversion to Hogwarts. Back in the real world a lorry pulled out in front of his car, and – according to Tesla’s statement on its own website – neither he nor the car’s autopilot picked out the truck’s white trailer against a brightly lit sky in time.

It is – like any fatal car accident – a tragedy that should be learned from in order to reduce the chances of it happening again. The difference is that this one puts the question of how much trust you’re prepared to put into self-driving cars in a whole new perspective.

Only a few weeks ago I argued autonomous cars were a belting idea, and even after this horrific accident I’d still argue the idea has potential. But to suggest that taking drivers out of the picture will spell the end of car accidents is dangerously naïve.

Think about how many times you’re being flown somewhere on autopilot. The chances of being involved in a crash are miniscule compared to being injured or killed in car – even more so when you discount the air crashes that are caused by human error – but there’s still a very remote chance something will happen. Regardless of whether it’s you or the electronics dictating the drive it’s impossible to eliminate the risk completely.

Both the Tesla accident and a crash between one of Google’s self-driving cars and a bus back in March show there’s a lot more work to be done before you can hire your Ford Focus as its own chauffeur. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

If you do like your Harry Potter films, I’d suggest sticking to your sofa for now.

Originally published in the 13 July edition of The Champion