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    Sunday, December 18, 2016

    Driverless 'Roborace' Car Makes Street Track Debut In Marrakech

    It is a car kitted out with technology its developers boldly predict will transform our cities and change the way we live.
    The autonomous "DevBot #1" took a giant leap forward in Morocco recently, making its debut on a street track at the Formula E Marrakech ePrix.
    The battery-powered prototype is being tested for Roborace-- a proposed race series where driverless cars will compete on temporary city circuits.
    "It's the first time we've run the Devbot in driverless mode on a Formula E track in the middle of a city street," Roborace's Justin Cooke told CNN.
    "It's so exciting for the team who put hours and hours of work in. These guys were up to 1-2 a.m. in the morning developing a technology that no one else in the world is able to do at this speed and in these complicated environments."

    Read: Electric race car showcases driverless future

    Using a variety of sensors -- including GPS, radar and ultrasonics -- allied to sophisticated computer programs, the car learns how to navigate a track at speed avoiding all obstacles.
    "What we are doing is at the forefront of technology right now," says Cooke, who is also CMO of Kinetik -- an investment company founded by Russian businessman Denis Sverdlov which is providing financial backing for the project.
    A new robot race car series is set to get underway in 2017.

     The planned "Roborace" series is scheduled to be contested during Formula E championship weekends. Organizers have commissioned Daniel Simon -- famous for his work on movies like "Tron: Legacy" -- to design the race car.

    For now, this prototype, called the DevBot #1, is trialing the autonomous technology.
    Watch a video of it in action here

    The battery-powered prototype can reach speeds of 215 mph (350 kph), according to Roborace.

    The "Roborace" series is scheduled to start in 2017 and will see 10 autonomous cars all competing on the same track.

     The car successfully navigated the track at Formula E's Marrakech ePrix in November. The all-electric race series will host robot races during ePrix weekends.

     The car has been developed by a small team of engineers and computer scientists. "With this car we have several kinds of sensors," Sergey Malygin, Roborace's Artificial Intelligence developer, told CNN. "First of all there are lasers measurements -- light-based, so we have information about the 3D objects around us."

     "Also we have cameras, radars, ultrasonics to get the information about other vehicles and base stations," Malygin continues. "We also have precise positioning systems and optical speed sensors."

     "To get this information inside (the car), process it and get a valuable understanding of what is happening around us that's something that needs a lot of computing power," Malygin explains. The raw data is then deciphered by algorithms which tells the car where the walls are and where other cars are on the road.

    Roborace engineer, Matas Simonavicius, says each wheel is individually powered, providing more stability and safety.
    "One motor drives one wheel," Simonavicius told CNN. "This way you can do torque vectoring -- you can control the power to wheels much better, how it drives and the performance it gives out. It's more advanced than the conventional stability control ABS."

    But are driverless cars a good idea?
    "I think, yes," Simonavicius says. "What's the biggest cause of accidents at the moment? It's human error."

     "That's why we want to bring this car into a controlled environment where you cannot hurt any people and you can prove that it works," Simonavicius argues.

    "We're trying to change people's perspective of it. So they will see it at races and see it's safe and does all these cool things."
    "There are two or three kinds of space races, if you will -- some people are going to Mars, we're developing robotic cars and I think it's probably one of the most, if not the most exciting space in the world right now."
    After the successful 30-minute test in Marrakech -- this year's host city for the  United Nations climate change conference (COP22) -- Cooke say the company will next try racing two cars together on track with the eventual aim of having up to 10 cars competing at every Formula E ePrix weekend.

    "To be here at COP22 when we are celebrating an electric future, a driverless future -- it's the perfect time for Roborace," Cooke enthuses.
    Visit cnn.com/motorsport for more Formula E news and features
    "More than anything we want people to be excited about the technology because it's going to change our lives, it's going to transform our cities."
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