Roborace, Where Intelligence Meets Technology

Sports constantly evolve with technology. Instant replay, for instance, has been introduced to sports to review close plays. In tennis, line judges have the technology to review hotly contested calls in the most intense moments of the match. Even as medicine and sports science advance, the events become safer as the rules change to protect players— for instance, the NFL banning all chop blocks.

But what happens when technology changes the game so dramatically that it creates what amounts to a new sport altogether? Just look at RoboRace.

RoboRace, which is a partnership between investment fund Kinetic and electric racing organization Formula-E, hopes to bring autonomous vehicles to the race track The races would transfer the skill of the individual driver and pit crew to a team of engineers. Those teams would get the same vehicle machinery, but they would have to create their own algorithm to dictate how it behaves in a race.

With the organic human element taken out of the sport, would hundreds of fans pack raceways to see a race autonomous vehicles that only respond to a unique algorithm?

Ars Technica’s Jonathan M. Gitlin raises the point that this non-human element provides a unique opportunity. With essentially no need to be tethered to safety regulations— remember, there are no humans in these cars— the tracks themselves could be more experimental; the speeds could reach new highs. Or, as Gitlin puts it, the races could resemble the “wackier end of the Hot Wheels spectrum.”

The reaction is sure to be mixed, but what a conversation to have.

McLaren’s MP4-X

The trajectory of sports is defined by a battle between traditionalists and futurists. There’s those who remember the sport from their halcyon days of earlier fandom, and those who acknowledge that because society is constantly advancing, our new technologies should apply to even our athletic pastimes.

futuristic racing car

The MP4-X in all its majesty.

We’ve seen it with football and concussions, for example. But the gridiron isn’t the only place where this question is being asked— it’s made it’s way to auto-racing, too.

Now, I don’t know all the answers, but McLaren is positioning itself at the vanguard of racing development for the next generation. A lot of times, when we think fuel efficiency or safety, we think of cars that aren’t sleek or fun or even fast. But the British auto manufacturer is looking to change that with its newest concept car, the MP4-X.

It was recently profiled in Maxim, which notes that it looks like “a fighter jet with wheels”. The new vehicle is not only engineered to contend, but to be safe as well.

All while incorporating cutting edge developments in automotive technology.

Take, for instance, the battery. It’s pretty heavy, and weighs down the car. By its nature, it is antithetical to the sleek and nimble associations with F1. McLaren is currently working to change this by outfitting their car with the ability to be wirelessly charged as it zips around the track. And as if that weren’t enough, McLaren is proposing to add solar power cells onto the hood for an added boost.

On the safety front, they’ve made the decision to do away with the traditional open cockpit. While this is sacrilege to many F1 enthusiasts, they argue that today we know better, and shouldn’t resist an advancement in safety. This hits home for some, considering that the Indycar and F1 worlds were rocked by two deaths just this year.

It’s still a concept, true. But if this is just one part of the future of racing, I can be alone in wanting to see the rest.

Honda’s Revival

It’s not unusual for a car to resurrect an old model for a new era. Dodge did it most notably in the mid-2000s with new incarnations of 70’s throwbacks including the Magnum, Charger, and Challenger. In 2005, Ford pulled it off when they channeled their 1960’s vibe for the new look Mustang.

The NSX is back with a fury.

The NSX is back with a fury.

But one auto manufacturer that did not execute this revival was Honda. In fact, they did the opposite, discontinuing several street favorites. Over the last decade, it’s name slowly slipped into conversations of starter cars. The old-reliable, but nothing definitively excellent for auto enthusiasts. But once they abandoned ship on the NSX in 2005 and the S2000 at the end of the decade, Honda became a codeword for “pedestrian”. Not they’re bad cars, but they just weren’t at the top of the mind in the discussion for top of the line street performance.

However, most of that last paragraph was written in the past tense. That’s because Honda is looking to change its fortunes in that department with the release of three formidable autos.

The first is the new look NSX, resurrected from its mid-2000s grave. Released under the Acura brand, this scorcher has confirmed speeds of 191 mph, and possesses a whopping 500+ horsepower. It boasts three different motors, an li-ion battery, and allows the driver to select a different mode to meet any condition they may encounter.

The Honda S660 is new to the fleet, and cousin to the S2000.

The Honda S660 is new to the fleet, and cousin to the S2000.

The S2000, another beloved vehicle, is slated for a re-release, as well, in 2017.

There’s also a new model in the works, the Honda: S660. And unlike the botched release and promotion of the CR-Z, this mini-roadster has well exceeded demand— it’s sold out. The only unexpected snag is that 80% of buyers are over 40 years of age. Compare that with S2000 sales, when 20% of buyers were 40 years or older. The demographics have completely flipped. Honda hoped younger consumers would bite for the S660, but the low demand in that demographic has been chalked up to the fact that many young drivers may not have the income required for a car of that caliber. But perhaps the younger crowd that grew up admiring the S2000 has aged,

and is looking to recapture some of that magic for themselves.

But wait, there’s more! Honda is reportedly in the works for production of a brand-new vehicle ready to fit the demands of the 21st-century. It’s dispelled rumors of a hybrid sports car, as it is a fully electric vehicle. It’s going to be powered by four electric motors, one at each wheel, for the ultimate all-wheel drive experience.

Here’s to Honda dispelling the assumptions that environmentally conscious vehicles can’t be vicious on the street.



Over at Petrolicious I bumped into a post that took a look at one of the more fascinating styles of racing automobiles: engine passengers. Obviously, we’re not talking about engine riding shotgun, and the reality is that it can be a bit hard to imagine for those who do have not seen one. So let’s take a look at some of the cars they’ve shared with the readers.

italian dalmonar car turning the corner

That’s the Nardi Bisiluro Damolnar. As you can see, the engine is fitted not under the hood, but in a section of the body that runs parallel to the driver’s side. Debuting in 1955, this particular vehicle was built with one thing in mind: endurance. Enrico Nardi wanted his car to compete with the best at the legendary Le Mans endurance race. One of the most important aspects of the dream vehicle was the emphasis on aerodynamics. This compact speedster actually required the driver to put their legs through the steering wheel, and the brake system was a work of genius in its own right. But while hopes were high, it ultimately did not finish due to suspension and weight problems— it met its end when it was blown off the track while being lapped. However, you’ve got to respect the ingenuity in the design.

While the Damolnar turned heads in its day, it certainly wasn’t the first vehicle to have that unique body design. That credit goes to 1951’s TARF II. The car was nicknamed “the twin torpedo”, and primarily competed in low-drag speed races. And speedy it was! It won a competition with an officially recorded rate of 185 mph, although it’s maximum speed was almost 200mph! Lucky for us, there has been video of this bad boy in action.

These cars aren’t only relics of the past. Honda is actually tinkering with a similar concept with their two cars aptly named Project 2 and Project 4. It’s pushing around 215 horsepower and weighs under 900 pounds. Again, this thing is a concept, so don’t expect to see it on the track anytime soon. But at least we know it’s out there.

The 2 Minutes of Le Mans

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the most fascinating and historic auto races across the entire sport. The race, held in the French town that bears its name, was founded in 1923. That makes it the oldest endurance race still being held. And yes, the duration of the race is a full, sustained 24 hours.

This year’s race began on June 10th and ended on the 14th, and Porsche emerged the victor. Tons of analysis about the race is ready for eager eyes to pour over, but something incredibly cool has popped up recently: the 24 hour marathon race has been condensed into two minutes. It makes sense that a shorter version should come up at some point. 24 hours is an incredibly long time, and you’d be hard pressed to find fans of any sport willing to forgo an entire days worth of productivity, sleep, and social obligations to devote that time to something they love (even parents have to sleep!). But two minutes? Now, that’s impressive.

So who’s the artist behind this miraculous optical feat? Camden Thrasher. And yes, that’s his real name. Thrasher is a racing enthusiast and self-taught photographer who seeks to ”capture the story and emotion of man and machine at speed in a still image”. He’s no stranger to Le Mans; he first attended in 2000. But his coverage of Team Audi presented an entirely new challenge.

While you may think that Thrasher was simply gliding along, taken shot after shot of Audi, it was much more intense than that. Though the race lasted 24 hours, Cameron was on the track for nearly 40. He also spent nearly a week preparing A huge portion of that was prep time– making sure all safety measures were in place, and practicing with coverage of the qualifying races.

When the race itself began, Thrasher went into full on artiste mode. He actually walked 19 miles during the first half of the race. When cars aren’t on the track and receiving pit stops, you may assume that he can catch a break. But you’d be assuming incorrectly. He made sure to capture images of the pit crews as they toiled in the garage.

Cameron’s four cameras places you right on the side of the action. 1,158 images later, the stop motion video instills you a sense of wonder and admiration for the bond between man and machine. Check out the video below: