Can motorsport still be exciting without human drivers?

Story highlights

  • "Motorsport is losing relevancy," says Formula E champion and Roborace CEO, Lucas di Grassi
  • He says driverless race cars are the future of the motorsport industry
  • The cars will be able to navigate the track without human interference.

(CNN)When electric-powered race cars entered the motorsport scene, some laughed. Traditionalists couldn't imagine a race without roaring engines.

With Formula E gradually converting the doubters, the sport faces another revolution. This time, it's driverless race cars.
But the biggest challenge, again, is winning fans over. Can racing still be exciting without human drivers? 2016-17 Formula E champion and Roborace CEO, Lucas di Grassi, seems to think so.
    He says like electric-powered race cars, people will come around to the idea.
    "People laughed but people are slowly turning to the idea," he told CNN Supercharged. "We are in a very, very important transitional process of motorsport."
    The Gen2: Formula E's F22-inspired race car
    The Gen2: Formula E's F22-inspired race car


      The Gen2: Formula E's F22-inspired race car


    The Gen2: Formula E's F22-inspired race car 00:55

    'Motorsport is losing relevancy'

    Roborace has been working on driverless cars and creating a new autonomous driving championship for a few years now. By using artificial intelligence, it says cars will be able to navigate tracks at fast speeds in championship races.
    Di Grassi says his focus for the company is to find a way of keeping motorsport relevant when we live in a society that no longer requires drivers. "The future of road vehicles will be autonomous," he says.
    "Motorsport is losing relevancy and we need to fight to keep it low cost, relevant and exciting for this new generation."
    But the Brazillian racing driver is adamant the Roborace series is there to compliment the sport, not replace it.
    "We are here to create a niche in motorsport -- to continue its relevance,"he explains.
    "We are not here to substitute the driver or the excitement that one-against-one or human drivers or performance creates."
    The championship will be a whole new field, Di Grassi says, where the driver's ability or safety no longer needs to be considered.
    Developers can instead focus on making even faster cars -- and more entertaining track challenges.
    Supercharged: Santiago ePrix
    Supercharged: Santiago ePrix


      Supercharged: Santiago ePrix


    Supercharged: Santiago ePrix 23:07

    The Robocar

    There's one thing missing from the Robocar: a seat for a driver.
    A Robocar in the pits during the FIA Formula E Championship Paris ePrix in May, 2017.
    Roborace developed the first driverless electric racing car last year, the Robocar "devbot", and it can reach speeds of 199mph.
    It can completely autonomously navigate tracks by using a range of technologies such as lidar, radar, ultrasonic sensors, optical speed sensors, AI cameras and GNSS positioning.
    The company plans to use cars like this, in an all-electric driverless race series that will be part of the entertainment at Formula E.
    It was only last year that it tested two "devbots" that raced against each other in Buenos Aires for the first time. One successfully dodged a dog that unexpectedly made its way onto the track, while another crashed into a wall during one of its turns.
    Roborace said it was because it was "pushing the boundaries of AI."
    Di Grassi says he joined Roborace because, at 33 years old, he knows he can't be a driver forever.
    "I will not race forever, I will retire in the next few years." he says, adding that Roborace will help him stay relevant in the motorsport industry.
    "AI will take over the world, it's just a matter of time."