The First Autonomous Motor Race A2RL was not Easy for Cars and Engineers

In this post:

  • The first autonomous motor racing event, A2RL, in Abu Dhabi Yas Marina displayed a marvelous blend of motor sport and AI technology.
  • The AI-controlled cars struggled and spun as they raced and were not as fast or capable as their human-controlled counterparts.
  • Experts were hopeful, as they said it would change over a year and will not remain the same.

The much anticipated A2RL, the world’s largest autonomous motor race, ended up in a not much desired way. Eight autonomous cars with no drivers competed in an open race that were completely controlled by artificial intelligence.

AI was deployed at the first autonomous motor race

The Abu Dhabi competition Autonomous Racing League (A2RL) attracted a global audience due to the new nature of motorsport, where instead of drivers, software engineers were competing for a win. This was the first event where a full fledged race was carried out, as before that only two cars had raced together autonomously, as teams from universities and tech firms will race the cars named Super Formula SF23, made by Dallara.

However, the results were not as expected, and the concerns that AI will take over everything, including motorsport, were answered quite well with the weird end of the race. The SF23 cars are used in Japanese racing events where they go around the laps near the speeds of Formula 1 races. These cars were heavily modified for AI and equipped with a number of 360-degree cameras, lidars, radars, and computers capable of fast processing to automate them with artificial intelligence.

Autonomous motorsports have been practiced in North America and Europe, but not at the level of A2RL, which is the first to race cars against each other. 

The event had its fair share of issues, as numerous incidents were reported during qualifying sessions and trials. For example, a car hit another from the rear end, and it lifted in the air for a moment, while another one spun on its own at a turn, and another car was seen hitting a wall when it turned early at a corner.

The tech is evolving

The race was not at the speeds you expect at a motor race event, as the race progressed at walking speeds due to the accidents and breaks due to issues with car handling. The scheduled distance for the race was eight laps, and at lap four, the leading car of Polimove spun by accidentally locking up its tires. The car following the Polimove was Unimore, which barely managed to avoid hitting it and almost came to a stop after passing the breaking car.

At the moment when Polimove’s car spun and Unimore’s car slowed down, two more cars following them also halted at the track looking hesitant to pass the incident and at the commentary, Jolyon Palmer, ex-Formula 1 driver said that the technology is not suitable for race yet but it is indeed impressive technology that has made racing cars together. He said,

“Now four cars stopped on the same straight very, very polite with each other giving each other enough space. The technology is working. It can obviously see what’s around with all those aforementioned sensors. There are plenty onboard for it to realise when it should advance and when it shouldn’t – there’s a car ahead. It has recognised that quite clearly as has the car in front of that.”

Source: Nine.

Due to the incident, the racing was stopped, and it started again after a long pause for sprint towards the checkered flag. After the stopover, Unimore held the leading position until it halted and was taken over by TUM, which also stopped a moment earlier in the race.

Though the race was not as perfect as you expect a race to be, the organizers were satisfied by the way it panned out. The technical director of the Autonomous Robotics Center in Abu Dhabi, Dr. Giovanni Pau, seemed intrigued, as he said it will not be like how it is today in a year or maximum one and a half years from now. 

Ex-Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat also attended the event and even raced with an AI car for the show, he said we are witnessing some interesting history today and said that it is a good development for the future.

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