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HKT Hong Kong E-Prix

by SCMP

2017 FIA Formula E HKT Hong Kong E-Prix

Man v Machine: Leading the way to autonomous car advancements

Roborace is in town to show how much artificial technology has advanced with a demonstration that went well on Saturday at Central Harbourfront

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 8:15pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 10:15pm

In an era where humans constantly look over their shoulders at the threat of artificial technology, Hong Kong electric racing fans will be able to see just how far robots have come at the HKT Hong Kong E-Prix on Sunday.

Revolutionary autonomous vehicle company Roborace is in town to put on a human v machine race and returned to the garage very confident after tests and demonstrations this morning.

“It went really well,” said Roborace digital content director, Roberto Kusabbi. “The human v machine demonstration was really to show and accelerate the advancement of autonomous technology, which we all know is the future of cars on our roads in the next five years.”

The team of 30-odd brought two of their “DevBots” to the city – development cars used to test soft and hardware with the capacity to hold a person inside.

“Our main car, the Robocar, is something which really wows people design-wise, but we’re using development cars because we can put a human in there and show that to the public,” said Kusabbi, who explained the Robocar was designed by automobile futurist Daniel Simon. The official CEO is last season’s Formula E winner Lucas Di Grassi.

UK television presenter Nicki Shields was chosen as first phase of the “human machine demo”. The team will now try to beat her time with only AI in the car seat. If all goes to plan, the DevBot will complete a fully autonomous lap.

“A lot of brains go into this,” he added, saying the team is composed of around 30. “It was always suggested that this was a competition of intelligence and that’s our platform. The software engineers are the heroes.”

“We’re a platform for that and we want to do it in an exciting way. You look at Formula 1 and their advancements in seat belt and powertrain technology – they’ve all come extreme environments, which is what we want to do,” Kusabbi added, explaining that cities such as Hong Kong are challenging due to its density in urban skyscrapers.

But the challenges must keep on coming in order for autonomous vehicles to fully thrive in modern society. There are still many creases to iron out, as demonstrated in Roborace’s unsuccessful Hong Kong debut last year.

“We had two months [of testing] and there were a few issues with the new technology back then,” said Kusabbi. “With a lot of countries we go to, it’s their first autonomous vehicle on the racetrack – tomorrow is a first in Hong Kong.

“The reason we partner with Formula E is so that we can drive around city streets. We’ve got a lot of data from maps so we know what’s going on here.”