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Daniel Simon and His Crazy Concept Cars

The next level

A German automotive designer is re-inventing the wheel with his uber-futuristic incarnations of the humble motor car. Daniel Simon, who has previously worked on Hollywood blockbusters like Tron: Legacy and Star Wars, is taking concept cars to the next level by dropping artificial intelligence into the mix.

Simon is involved in a new motor racing format known as Roborace. This is where sleek, ultramodern (and more to the point, driverless) cars are completely controlled by AI (artificial intelligence). There is a human element here in the creation of the computer algorithm that ultimately feeds the AI. However, every decision during the race is made by the car itself.

The concept cars use cameras, radar, 3D laser scanners and GPS to navigate around the track. The complexity of artificial intelligence means that every time the vehicles run the circuit, they are learning. “It’s like having a five year-old Lewis Hamilton in a racing car, but he learns a lot faster than any human,” Simon told GQ Magazine.

More risks

Because lives are not at stake during these Roborace events, the moves taken by the cars can be far more extreme. A tactic that would usually involve an unacceptable level of danger can now be seen as a calculated risk.

Simon envisages a future where cars could be racing upside down on a tunnel ceiling or trying extreme jumps. He believes that this would offer an increased experience for racing fans. However, he does recognise that accidents could be costly in financial terms.

Simon told GQ that for the moment the goal is to “develop road-relevant autonomous tech in a competition format on a safe race track”.

How good are the cars?

Simon’s experience in car design is excellent, and prior to his film credits he worked with Volkswagen, Lamborghini and Bugatti. So there’s no doubt that the Roborace concept cars look stunning. But just how good are they at racing?

Actually, pretty good as it goes. At an airfield in Yorkshire last year, the Robocar achieved a speed of 175.49 mph. This breaks the Guinness world speed record for a driverless car.

Can we see a race?

There are currently four teams involved in the Roborace events, hailing from the UK, Austria, Italy, and Germany. So far, competition has sadly only taken place behind closed doors.

There were races last year at the Circuito Monteblanco in Huelva in southern Spain, and the Autodromo di Modena in Italy.

The Roborace cars were due to compete again in 2020, but once more without spectators. Although organisers would not reveal the venues, they have made promises that in the future, events will be open to the public.

AI production cars

Simon describes the rise of AI as “unstoppable” and sees “beautiful benefits” in it for the future. He envisages a time when people will be able to kick back and check their messages while their car drives them home.

If Simon himself has anything to do with the design, these will be beautiful benefits.

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