In the first Autonomous Racing League race, the struggle was real

April 28, 2024
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The first race of the Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League (A2RL) took place on the Yas Marina Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Formula 1 track today, and I’m pleased to report that a race both began and ended. But the event was not without strife — far from it. During qualifying time trials, the driverless Dallara Super Formula racers outfitted with cameras and software seemed to struggle mightily to complete a full lap.

During the trials, cars randomly juked:

Or just pulled off the track to take a little break:

You get well-acquainted with the interstitial music during these highlights. All praise to the patience and grace of the announcers, who didn’t sigh once that I heard. Instead, they declared things like that these cars are “pushing the boundaries of science.”

When it came time for the actual race, the lead racer, Polimove, spun out on the fourth of eight laps. The second car, Tum, passed it safely, but shortly after that, the event’s officials threw up a yellow flag. And since these are good AI drivers who obey the rules, the two behind Polimove stopped, unwilling to pass the spun-out yellow car. Racers aren’t supposed to pass each other during a caution lap, you see.

About an hour after the first lap of A2RL began, the AI racers completed their eight-lap race. If you must know, Tum won.

These are early days for autonomous racing, and surely things will get better eventually — certainly, they’ve come a long way since Roborace’s first full circuit in 2017. I’m looking forward to the day they’re as good as human racers (if that ever happens). But for right now, we’re very much still in the “congratulate baby for successfully getting most of its food into its mouth” phase of self-driving racers.



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