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Watch a Self-Driving Race Car Crash before It Starts

Eric Tingwall
·2-min read

From Car and Driver

  • A self-driving race car made an abrupt turn and crashed into a wall as soon as it started during the first live broadcast of Roborace, an autonomous-vehicle race series.

  • Four of six teams failed to finish the three-lap time-trial race held in the United Kingdom.

  • This harmless vehicular faceplant comes as several companies are expanding their testing of self-driving technology on public roads.

Here's your daily reminder that a future filled with self-driving cars isn't as imminent as some might like you to believe. In the first live broadcast of the Roborace autonomous-vehicle race series, one self-driving car left the starting grid and immediately veered into the pit-lane wall. For Acronis SIT Autonomous, the Swiss team fielding the car, the race was literally over before it began. Their car never made it across the starting line.

The vehicular faceplant came during the first event of what Roborace is calling Season Beta, in which six teams compete in three-lap time-trial races with electric cars driving through a mixed-reality "metaverse." As they lap real-world racetracks, the cars are also supposed to avoid virtual obstacles and drive through virtual collectibles. Some teams, however, chose to plow through the virtual walls and take time penalties in favor of setting a faster lap time. Unfortunately for Acronis SIT Autonomous, the wall its car tried to drive through was very real. The car sustained significant damage to the nose in the impact. Ilya Shimchik, the team principal, told broadcasters that it wasn't immediately clear what caused the car to crash. Roborace teams all use the same spec cars, known as DevBot 2.0, but develop their own software that controls the vehicle.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Roborace had planned to conduct Season Beta events without spectators for the sake of safety, so the crash at the Thruxton Circuit in the United Kingdom only endangered a few egos while providing schadenfreude for those of us who can now watch the video over and over. But this mishap is also a reminder that self-driving technology is still in its infancy, even as several companies expand their testing on American roads with much higher stakes. Waymo is in the process opening its driverless ride-hailing service in suburban Phoenix to more riders. Cruise, the self-driving technology subsidiary of General Motors, recently announced that it plans to begin testing autonomous vehicles without safety drivers by the end of 2020. More disconcerting, Tesla has rolled out its Full Self-Driving feature as unfinished beta software to select owners, who now need to maintain constant vigilance over a technology that's meant to lull them into inattention. These Tesla drivers will now be doing a job normally reserved for trained professionals on the same roads used by unsuspecting, non-consenting American drivers.

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