There’s no question about whether the automotive industry is headed towards a self-driving future or not, but rather when exactly it will go mainstream.
That mostly depends on three factors. The first one is in the manufacturers’ yard: they need to come up with the actual hardware and software necessary to allow the cars to drive themselves safely and reliably. A lot of people believe we’re not too far away from that moment, but we think the technology needs at least a few years of extensive testing before it can be declared ready for mass adoption.
The second one has to do with the authorities. Once the carmakers or technology companies involved can demonstrate their systems are safe, it is the turn of the lawmakers to take the stage and find ways to regulate the use of such vehicles so that every party involved is happy.
But the last say in all this belongs to the public. If the people are not convinced, then everything will have been in vain. And since you can’t trust something you know nothing about, exposing them to this technology as early on as possible is the best way to maximize the chances of adoption.
Everybody is doing its bit, but it looks like the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (or FIA, as its friends call it) has taken things very seriously. Not only is it preparing the world’s first AI-only racing series under Roborace, but now it transpired that it’s contemplating using autonomous cars in Formula One as well.
Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and the lot have nothing to fear, though, as the plan is to have the technology used strictly for the safety car. Even so, that would provide plenty of exposure in what is still considered the world’s number one racing series.
However, that is bad news for former DTM driver Bernd Maylander and his modified Mercedes-AMG GT, the pair that is currently fulfilling that role. But Marcin Budkowski, the head of the F1 technical department who talked about this possibility in an interview with Motorsport, did not provide a timeframe for when it could happen.
“It would promote a technology about which there is a bit of skepticism and, instead, it could be shown that it works,” he said. “The safety car driver would no longer be essential because it would leave the controls to the computer. But we must be aware of the attraction of [F1] race cars without drivers: the engineers would love it, but not the fans.”