Don’t expect to know any of the drivers competing in one of 2024’s most intriguing races. That’s because there won’t be any.
The Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League (A2RL) is set to launch with its inaugural grand prix later this spring. Ten teams from universities and research facilities around the world are set to vie for the competition’s $2.25 million cash prize.
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The first A2RL race will be held on April 28 at the Yas Marina Circuit, the same venue where Formula 1’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has been held since 2009. Unlike that race, the focus will be solely on the car, the open-wheel Dallara Super Formula SF23. The Italian-made vehicle looks just like the cars driven by Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen with one key difference—it has a computer in place of a driver’s cockpit (and lacks a protective halo, steering wheel, and pedals).
Each car that competes in the event, which is operated by Abu Dhabi-based organizers Aspire, will be identical to one another. Dallara’s vehicle weighs 1,521 pounds, has a gas-powered inline-four engine, and can reach a top speed of 186 mph, according to the BBC Science Focus. The difference will be the software algorithms used by each team to help its car navigate the twisting racecourse as quickly as possible.
“We combine talent, technology, and extreme sports in order to forge a pathway to the future of mobility,” Tom McCarthy, Aspire’s executive director, told BBC last fall. “We will combine state-of-the-art motor racing parts with artificial intelligence to deliver an extreme sporting experience.”
The lack of drivers won’t be the only thing that separates the grand prix from other races on the motorsports calendar. Aspire also hopes to create a unique viewing experience, that will let the audience get behind the car’s nonexistent wheel via virtual and augmented reality. Expect details as to what this will entail in the months to come.
A2RL’s first race will be the biggest involving self-driving cars, but it won’t be the first. In 2017, two autonomous vehicles raced around a Buenos Aires track using only sensors and onboard systems, though only one finished, according to Reuters. Formula E has also been looking into setting up a “Roborace” series of its own. April’s grand prix is the season’s only event, but if it proves to be a success there are hopes of adding at least two more races in the future.
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