Roborace’s Robocar has a testbed, and it’s called DevBot. A secret until Monday, it’s the preliminary step in Roborace’s mission to make an autonomous electric supercar.
The black, buglike vehicle looks nothing like the stunning Robocar it supports, though it has the same drivetrain, sensors, and communication and processing technology. Here’s the key difference: It has a cockpit for a driver. Developers competing to program the Robocar will be able to drive or ride in DevBot to test their software.
Roborace has already been testing the custom-made DevBot on real racetracks and airfields, prior to revealing it on Monday. It will be shown to the public on August 24 at the Formula E open practice sessions in the United Kingdom’s Donington Park raceway.
Teams competing to program the Robocar will use the test car during a pre-qualifying process scheduled to start in September. The actual Roborace is scheduled to take place in about six months, pitting multiple Robocars against each other in a special event during the Formula E 2016/2017 season.
The brains of the Robocar and the DevBot is an Nvidia Drive PX 2 supercomputer that’s about the size of a lunchbox. Sporting dual Tegra CPUs and dual Pascal GPUs, the Drive PX 2 can manage the flood of input from cameras, radar, and other sensors in real time so the car can drive itself.
Why this matters: The DevBot is part of an ambitious plan by the Roborace team to raise the public profile of autonomous driving technology by proving it’s safe even at high speeds. That may be particularly important after Tesla’s deadly Autopilot crash. Even Ford’s bold commitment to mass production isn’t projected to happen until 2021, so the Roborace, if successful, may inject some much-needed positive excitement into the self-driving space.
Melissa Riofrio spent her formative journalistic years reviewing some of the biggest iron at PCWorld--desktops, laptops, storage, printers--and she continued to focus on hardware testing during stints at Computer Currents and CNET. Currently, in addition to leading PCWorld’s content direction, she covers productivity laptops and Chromebooks.