University teams from around the world will compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Indy Autonomous Challenge this week. Two years of development will culminate in one team winning a million dollars for their driverless efforts.
But what does this mean for the future of motorsport and esports?
The Indy Autonomous Challenge
Nine qualifying teams have had 24 months to create software capable of racing the Indy Lights Dallara. These teams have been through three previous rounds to demonstrate their software in a simulation and that they can operate the Indy Lights car safely.
This week each team will need to qualify for the race by completing ten driver-free laps at an average speed of at least 100 mph. They must also be able to complete a single lap at 120 mph average. Performances here will set the grid for the race itself.
Finally, the race will be run over 20 laps around the historic Brickyard. The first Dallara IL-15 to complete the distance earns the $1m prize!
Some level of autonomy is present in many modern cars, from just parking assistance to Tesla with their move towards automated driving. Racing these cars is a different challenge altogether though. Developing the technology to react to the cars around you at high speed is a huge challenge for these teams.
We do see algorithms race regularly in the video game world though. Video game designers have to make bots able to race against human players in a realistic way. Could video games be the way to train driverless racers?
It's been proposed previously, but this is the first time high-speed autonomous head-to-head motorsport has come to fruition. Formula E announced the Roborace series several years ago, but despite substantial testing there has yet to be any wheel-to-wheel action.
Many of us tune in to Twitch streams watching players compete in F1 2021 esports, so taking the motors out of motorsport is nothing new. But will the reverse ever take off? At the moment it's not clear there's an audience interested in watching driverless vehicles race.