Artificial intelligence paving the way for autonomous racing
Still a long way to go, but AI could play an even bigger role in future, says McLaren Applied Technologies' Asia-Pacific managing director
With the growing trend of artificial intelligence (AI) disrupting industries across all sectors, it is inevitable that this technology has found its way to one of the world’s foremost proponents of automotive innovation – Formula 1.
And Michael Shearer OBE, McLaren Applied Technologies' Asia-Pacific managing director, has not ruled out the possibility of the envelope being pushed even further with driver-less F1 vehicles one day.
Speaking at the second edition of the F1 conference, titled Formula 1 and Beyond: The Next Lap, at the Victoria Theatre on Wednesday, Shearer said he sees a future for autonomous racing.
Dr Julian Tan, F1’s head of growth & esports, and Ellie Norman, F1’s director of marketing and communications, were the other speakers present.
Said Shearer: “There is still a long way to go. But yes, I can see a future for autonomous racing. It is something to look at for the future.”
Adding that AI is already proving to be indispensable, Shearer said: “AI is used in race strategy for almost all teams and if you unpack the F1 technology, it's managing complexities in real time and using analytics.
"If something unforeseen happens, AI helps to identify the next course of action. At the end of the day, AI is not to replace the driver but to help the driver. We want the driver to focus on the driving and not focus on strategy.
“Essentially, AI is there to support the spectacle of the race.”
This paradigm change is already well underway in Formula E – the electric street racing championship – where a Roborace series will eventually see self-driving cars compete against one another at speeds of up to 199 mph.
In May, two driver-less sports cars made up the grid for what was billed as the world’s first successful autonomous car race. The electric racers both dueled at dusk on the Monteblanco circuit in Spain in the first of several test competitions that are intended to lead to a full international campaign in 2021.
At the conference, Shearer also said that he hopes to see a future for women in F1. Just six women have participated in an F1 Grand Prix weekend to date. The 2015 British GP currently stands as the last time a woman participated in an F1 race weekend, when Susie Wolff drove in Free Practice 1 at Silverstone for Williams.
There is currently a W Series, which had its inaugural season this year. It is an all-female single-seater racing championship which features 20 drivers contesting six races.
Responding to a question from the crowd on when F1 will have a full-fledged female driver, Shearer said: “I want to make it very clear that I don’t see no reason why women shouldn’t be on equal terms in Formula 1 as men.
“One of the key challenges is to have role models and that has to start further down the organisation. We have a long way to go on this but we have quite an advanced outreach programme to schools to show girls that there is a future for them in the sport.
"It is something that requires a change in the industry. There are small steps being made like having the W-series but we have a long way to go.”