The Motorsport Concept Building an Autonomous Mobility Ecosystem - ASPIRE's Executive Director, Dr Tom McCarthy
Jan 25 2024

The Motorsport Concept Building an Autonomous Mobility Ecosystem - ASPIRE's Executive Director, Dr Tom McCarthy

The Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League (A2RL) is a new motorsport concept where teams compete to develop and race cars using solely Artificial Intelligence (AI). A2RL is the brainchild of ASPIRE, the technology transition arm of Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology and Research Council.

Dr Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of ASPIRE, has been talking to Auto Futures.

"Ten cars will be released for the inaugural race in 2024. We believe that instead of drivers, the ‘heroes’ of the sport will be the engineers, scientists, programmers, and technicians," says McCarthy.

Research and education institutions from across the globe will battle on track for a stake in the US $2.25 million prize purse. The motivation behind A2RL is to build an ecosystem around autonomous mobility.

"This will accelerate the development and effectiveness of autonomous systems for deployment in road cars. Many drivers are showing a lack of enthusiasm towards ADAS 3 components such as Lane Assist, which they find disconcerting. The competitive environment of motorsport can demonstrate the reliability and safety of these systems thus enhancing consumer confidence and de-risking OEM investment," he explains.

In parallel with the inaugural race a STEM competition for students is being organized where they will code, and race scaled down versions of autonomous vehicles.

A central motivation in establishing A2RL was to position Abu Dhabi as a hub for innovation in autonomous mobility.

"We are partnering with world class suppliers in adapting and developing the Dallara Super Formula car for autonomous racing; attracting leading teams from across the globe to come and compete in Abu Dhabi; and creating a platform for youth to take active involvement, demonstrating the attractiveness of a career in engineering and science and making the consumers of the future more informed. All together this will ensure that the innovation we are promoting will stick locally."

"The AI Is Alone On The Track"

In November,2023, A2RL, revealed its autonomous, highly modified Super Formula SF23 development car. Extensive testing programme will refine the base SF23 platform, which includes an array of sensors, control modules, and autonomous control software.

"While it may look fairly similar from a distance, the modifications done to the SF23 racecars used in A2RL are extensive. All race cars in A2RL use a drive-by-wire system that replicates human inputs. This system employs actuators for the steering, braking, and gear shifting, eliminating the need for a physical driver. These actuators are all controlled by the onboard computer," says McCarthy.

Once finalised, this base platform will be made available to the ten teams participating in the inaugural A2RL race at Yas Marina Circuit, in Abu Dhabi, on April 28, 2024.

"The next major modification is the vast array of sensor technologies that will allow the machine learning algorithms to ‘see’ and develop situational awareness – including radar, lidar, cameras, and GPS. These will be supported by a number of different control modules. Each will supply the driving AI with a continuous feed of data, which can be used to determine the best course of action. Essentially, the AI is alone on the track, with the only outside input being an emergency kill switch," he says.

AI is the only way that the vehicles can be controlled on track. Beyond the basic functionality provided by A2RL, the development of the algorithms that will interpret data and make ‘decisions’ on the track while racing is entirely up to the teams.

"They will also take part in two weeks of training at Yas Marina ahead of the annual race to fine-tune their algorithms. This will result in highly competitive racing with immense complexity and excitement – a never-before-seen spectacle."

A2RL is considering other vehicles for future competitions.

"At the moment, our focus is on the Super Formula SF23 and establishing A2RL as a respected and competitive international motorsport. We will launch an autonomous drone race in 2025 and in the future, we will extend to other platforms such as dune buggies," says McCarthy.

A Question Of Trust

Without drivers, race day experience for fans and viewers will be very different to almost every other motorsport event that has ever been held.

"While the focus is on development and driving innovation in the realm of autonomous driving, we have some exciting ideas to engage audiences both on the track and at home. A lot of this will be about a combined digital and physical experience, which you’ll hear more about as we get closer to the race in April 2024," explains McCarthy.

Finally, we asked him what driverless urban mobility will be like by 2030.

"Extreme sport studies around the world have already demonstrated that driverless vehicles are statistically safer than those controlled by humans. There is, however, a substantial disconnect between public sentiment and trust in autonomous systems and their real-world effectiveness."

"Part of A2RL’s mission is to address these concerns while also spurring the continual improvement of these systems. When you consider 2030, there will have been at least six seasons of A2RL development, alongside the efforts of automotive OEMs around the world," he adds.

"While it may be too early to give a definitive timeframe, it is clear that driverless urban mobility will be a critical part of the transport landscape over the coming decades," concludes McCarthy,

Source :