Porsche develops software for autonomous racing cars

Technology enables people to experience the speed and driving of a professional

 A 1966 Porsche 911 car races at Goodwood Festival of Speed on July 01, 2017 in Chichester, England. The carmaker is developing autonomous race car technology. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

A 1966 Porsche 911 car races at Goodwood Festival of Speed on July 01, 2017 in Chichester, England. The carmaker is developing autonomous race car technology. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

 

Porsche is developing autonomous car technology to enable a driver to experience hands-free how a professional motor racing champion would tackle a racetrack.

The German sports car maker is aiming to use software that will capture data from professional drivers as they rip around a racecourse. It will then upload the data so a self-driving Porsche can replicate the entire driving experience on the track.

This means a driver will experience the speed and driving of a professional. Then, the driver can take the wheel and measure their own skill against an ideal lap and obtain real-time feedback on how to improve.

Oliver Blume, Porsche’s chief executive, said there was a bright future for autonomous technology as “a virtual instructor at the racetrack”.

“The system can help you: ‘Okay you have to break a bit later, do the curve a bit sharper’,” Mr Blume said.

Porsche is using former Formula One racing driver Mark Webber, who retired last year after winning nine Grand Prix races, to create the app as it captures the way he drives on the track.

The 40-year-old Australian, now a Porsche brand ambassador, joked that the “Mark Webber app” would be like a cloning. “I’m going to feed the app and undo my own talent,” he said at Goodwood.

Self-driving technology

For luxury carmakers, self-driving technology often looks like a threat that could rob them of an aggressive, emotional driving experience. Porsche’s novel idea would turn that threat into an opportunity, by underscoring first-hand the art of professional driving while marketing what a top-end car is capable of.

Mr Webber said the app’s development was in its early days, but he was convinced it was feasible and had the potential to “totally accelerate” the learning curve for sports car drivers.

He said the app would allow the driver to learn from his own skills in “layers”, requiring him to drive a racetrack at different speeds to upload the data, so a user could develop in stages from novice to professional.

“I would go at 40 per cent, and 50 per cent, and 60 per cent, and give you different layers,” he said. “Then you could sit in - and take it in.”

Mr Blume could not say when the app would be ready, but the technology already exists for Porsches to drive around the racetrack.

Indeed, the world’s first driverless car race, Roborace, took place in Barcelona in February.

Difficulty

“Many people say autonomous driving and Porsche, it doesn’t fit together,” Mr Blume said. “But we think ahead - how to use technologies and make them special for Porsche.”

Mr Webber described current self-driving car technology as “relatively low-hanging fruit” - from self-parking to staying in the right line and detecting other vehicles.

He added that the difficulty will be getting the car to drive like “Mark Webber 100 per cent”.

“The coding of that last part will be quite challenging,” he said, “because I’m really going to be aggressive.”

– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017)