Driverless Roborace car crashes at speed in Buenos Aires

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

Image source, Roborace
Image caption,
The red Devbot 1 completed the race, but the yellow Devbot 2 crashed

A landmark race between two driverless electric cars has ended badly for one of the contestants.

The unfortunate Devbot vehicle crashed out of the Roborace competition after misjudging a corner while travelling at high speed.

The incident occurred ahead of the start of the latest Formula E electric car race in Buenos Aires.

The other vehicle managed to complete the course after achieving a top speed of 186km/h (116mph).

"One of the cars was trying to perform a manoeuvre, and it went really full-throttle and took the corner quite sharply and caught the edge of the barrier," Roborace's chief marketing officer Justin Cooke told the BBC.

"It's actually fantastic for us because the more we see these moments the more we are able to learn and understand what was the thinking behind the computer and its data.

"The car was damaged, for sure, but it can be repaired. And the beauty is no drivers get harmed because... there is no-one in them."

Photos of the resulting damage have been published by an Argentinian blog. Roborace also plans to upload footage from the event onto its YouTube channel this Friday.

Image source, Roborace
Image caption,
The cars communicate with each other to avoid contact

The Devbots are controlled by artificial intelligence software - rather than being remote-controlled by humans - and use a laser-based Lidar (light detection and ranging) system and other sensors to guide themselves. They also communicate to avoid collisions with each other.

Roborace's organisers had previously showed off one of their Devbots speeding round the UK's Donington Park circuit last August, but this was the first time they had publicly displayed two vehicles competing against each other.

Image source, Roborace
Image caption,
Roborace intends to replace the Devbots with sleeker models when the competition formally launches

Even so, they billed the event as a test run ahead of future plans to pit 10 teams of robotic cars against each other, each powered by different AI software.

Mr Cooke stressed that crash barriers and a limit on the Devbot's top speed had meant spectators in the Argentine capital had not been put at risk.

And he added that another incident involving the winning car illustrated built-in safety measures.

"A dog ran on to the track, and the car was able to slow down, avoid it and take another path," he said.

Image source, Roborace
Image caption,
The winning Devbot 1 managed to avoid running over a dog

Roborace's chief executive Denis Sverdlov will reveal more details about his company's plans, at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona next week.

The company then intends to show off its tech again at the next Formula E race, in Mexico City on 1 April.

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