Robocar. Image by Chief Design Officer Daniel Simon / Roborace Ltd.

The Formula One machines produced by teams such as Ferrari, Mercedes Benz and Red Bull Racing are part-car, part-jet fighter and part-IT system. The sport’s 25 year journey of connectivity and data-driven performance has seen a revolution in its ability to drive performance, quality, reliability and safety. No wonder Formula One loves data!

The use of telemetry to monitor vehicle performance extends to evaluating every input by the driver, and this in turn has led to the creation of exceptionally complex simulators; a virtual environment within which drivers such as Red Bull’s young Max Verstappen can be trained in every facet of how to extract the maximum performance from his vehicle in the face of real-world scenarios.

What is clear from all this data is that human error exists even within the most talented of World Champion drivers. At a time when you cannot log onto a news web site or social media without being bombarded with the imminent arrival of self-driving, autonomous cars, where does this leave Formula One?

Roborace is a fascinating new racing series which will feature identical autonomous race cars aiming to compete at Formula One speeds, but with one major difference; drivers are not required. Bad news for the Lewis Hamiltons of this world!

Instead this will be a battle of software developers and engineers using artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning. Robocars, as they are known, will not only navigate their way around a race track at high speed, but learn how to compete against each other in wheel-to-wheel combat.

The brainchild of Roborace’s Denis Sverdlov and designer Daniel Simon, who previously created vehicles for SciFi movies including Tron; Legacy, the Robocar will be produced by UK company Kinetik and participate as a support-race to the all-electric FIA Formula E Championship starting in 2018.

The Robocar will use LIDAR – light detection and ranging technology – combined with cameras, ultrasonic sensors, radar and GNSS – global navigation satellite system – to provide the data necessary for its systems to learn the environment and plot winning strategies.

Formula One is already using AI, race strategy algorithms and machine learning within its manufacturing processes, but the arrival of Roborace is a welcome and formidable technical challenge.

“Roborace is all about the technology, and it should be a dynamic proving ground for the technologies we need to secure the arrival of fully autonomous vehicles,” says 13 Grands Prix winner David Coulthard. “Formula One loves technology, but combines it with human performance, so Roborace promises something very different. Think of Formula One as a technology sport for humans, and Roborace as an R&D race for AI.”

Roborace will certainly push the boundaries of what is possible, but Formula One will retain the human element as part of its spectacle of man and machine. No need for Lewis Hamilton to visit the local job centre just yet.