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This Autonomous Race Car Crashed Almost Immediately

The world of motorsports is no stranger to crashes. From Formula1 to NASCAR, we’ve all seen dramatic collisions with car parts raining from the skies. The hilarious clip we’re looking at today has almost none of those things. For starters, there isn’t even a human driver in the cockpit. That’s because Roborace is a racing series that exclusively features autonomous electric vehicles.

Even more interesting is that all of the teams use the same chassis and powertrain provided by Roborace, except with their unique computer programming. Last Thursday, one of the cars, the DevBot 2.0, veered sharply right seconds after taking off, smashing into a concrete barrier.

What is a Roborace DevBot?

Before we dive in too deep into Roborace and the DevBot, I highly encourage you to watch the video embedded below.

OK, now onto the car. According to Roborace, the racing series got its start in 2016 with the introduction of the Robocar. The Robocar is a fully autonomous, electrically powered, driverless racecar. Since there’s no need for a driver, the car itself has a very unusual shape, featuring aerodynamic designs that a human-driven car would struggle to achieve.

The DevBot is essentially the Robocar’s development platform, hence the name. According to Roborace, the DevBot utilizes a Ginetta LMP3 as its base but includes the same four electric motors, 500 hp, and all-wheel drive. Since the Ginetta is not an autonomous vehicle, it includes a cockpit, providing us some strange videos of the steering wheel operating on its own.

A photo of Roborace's first full-autonomous race car.
Robocar | Alex Wong via Getty Images

The car in the actual crash video is a DevBot 2.0, which, as the name suggests, is an upgraded version of the DevBot. Unlike Roborace’s original prototype, version 2.0 features rear-wheel drive. Additionally, the DevBot 2.0 features new body panels.

Roborace decided to give us a better view

No good crash video is complete without a couple of extra angles. Thankfully, Roborace has done a great job of finding the humor in the situation and sharing some in-cabin footage of the incident.

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The crash itself took place on October 29th, one of the DevBot 2.0’s lined up to begin a lap. The car in question belongs to the SIT autonomous team, which was about to complete its second run. To add insult to injury, the whole thing was broadcasted live via the company’s Twitch channel. Furthermore, this crash happened during the first round of racing ever broadcasted of the racing series.

From the clips of the live stream, we can see that the car never even drove forward. The DevBot essentially started from a standstill and immediately turned its wheels to the right, accelerating directly into the wall. Despite the lack of a human driver onboard, this incident has human error written all over it.

Why was the DevBot so fond of the concrete wall?

Since it’s been a few days after the Roborace DevBot 2.0 gave the concrete wall a smooch, one of the team’s engineers jumped onto Reddit to explain what actually happened.

In a Formula1 subreddit comment, an SIT autonomous team engineer claims that the issue began before the car even set off. According to the engineer, the car completed an initialization lap driven by a human driver. During that lap, something happened which caused the steering wheel to lock itself completely to the right. As the car was programmed to drive, the steering command remained jammed to the right, causing the infamous crash.

Thankfully, the engineer also reported that during the second racing event, the car drove excellently. So much so that his team actually ended up finishing second place.