TWENTY-ONE years ago the Deep Blue supercomputer beat reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov in what was a landmark ‘man vs machine’ duel. Now another man and another machine have been pitted against each other, but this time on a race track.
Roborace, a series that uses autonomous racing cars to help improve the technology for the road, fielded one if its autonomous DevBot prototype cars against Ryan Tuerck, a human professional drift racing driver, in a time trial competition in Rome.
The DevBots are controlled by artificial intelligence software — rather than being remote-controlled by humans — and use a laser-based Lidar (light detection and ranging) system and other sensors to guide themselves round the courses.
Tuerck was first to drive, taking control of the DevBot electric racer over some test laps around the street circuit set up for the Formula E series. He walked away impressed by the vehicle’s quick acceleration, calling it “the fastest accelerating car that I have driven”.
However, driving the DevBot was not all plain sailing, with Tuerck initially struggling to get to grips with it, braking late on two corners.
The next day the drift racer returned to record a time of 1:51.8 around the bumpy, tight circuit before the autonomous DevBot took its turn
With 550bhp and no-one at the wheel, the driveless DevBot snaking its way around narrow chicanes makes for slightly surreal, but impressive viewing.
Fortunately for the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, though, DevBot wasn’t as quick as the human — it could only set a best time of 2:18.4, more than 26 seconds slower than Tuerck.
Tuerck was full of admiration for the technology, though. “Watching this thing drive autonomously around the circuit was honestly mind blowing,” he said.
Despite the result, Roborace founder Denis Sverdlov predicts the firm’s tech could start beating professional drivers “within a year”.
Roborace’s organisers had previously showed off one of their DevBots speeding round the UK’s Donington Park circuit in 2016, but this was the first time they had publicly displayed a man facing off against a machine.
The race organisers are developing a race series for driveless, electrically-powered cars to provide an alternative to leading motor sport races, such as F1.
Last year, a landmark race between two driverless electric cars ended in a crash after one DevBot vehicle crashed out of the Roborace competition after misjudging a corner while travelling at high speed.