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A2RL May Be Autonomous, but Humans Are at Its Heart

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As Yas Marina Circuit readies itself for A2RL’s inaugural event, a world-first four-car fully autonomous race, special attention needs to be given to two vital aspects of the competition: the car and the teams behind them.

Each competitor in the Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League starts with the same vehicle: a Dallara Super Formula car. The car, in its original form, is used in the Japanese Super Formula, but here it’s been given a raft of modifications and custom-built to make it suitable for fully autonomous driving and is known as EAV24. Outside of Formula One, the Dallara is the fastest open-wheel racing car on the planet.

Its body includes sustainable composites. Mixing carbon and flax–a natural material that shares lightweight and rigid properties with traditional carbon fiber sourced from Swiss company Bcomp. It’s been shaped to help the car cut through the air cleanly, generate downforce to aid fast cornering, and, of course, to look good.

At the front and rear are cutting-edge pushrod suspension and adaptive dampers to ensure it can get around corners as flat and as quickly as possible. Its suspension setup has been, much like its body, designed to be as space-efficient and as light as regulations allow.

In the middle of the car is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder internal combustion engine–A2RL isn’t an electric series–that produces a hefty 550 horsepower. That power is sent to the rear wheels, via a six-speed gearbox.

It’s a race car through and through, as Dr. Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of the ASPIRE Group, the organization running A2RL, explains: “We want to create drama and excitement, and with EVA24 we’ve got it. It’s based on one of the best race cars in the world, it sounds incredible, and it’s very fast. With that as our basis, we’ve got the perfect canvas for our goal: fully autonomous extreme race. Come for the car, stay for the technological spectacle.”

In an A2RL car, you’ll have noticed the autonomous stack instead of a driver. It uses sensors, actuators, computers, 360-degree cameras, and LiDAR technology to “see” the track, and anything else on it. The combination of technologies works in harmony not only to go as quickly as is safely possible but to get ahead of its competitors.

The hardware is only half of the story. The cars are built to a standard specification, the hardware is the same for every competitor. The teams are responsible for creating software that uses advanced technology as efficiently as possible. Their input allows the car’s Controller, LiDAR, and Planner, to move, see, and decide better–hopefully better than the rest of the field. The winner in A2RL may have perhaps already been decided, but until the cars are on track we won’t know who it is. We’ll find out on April 27 which has what it takes to win.

The balance of hardware and software can only be forged by people. The human element of A2RL may not be in the cockpit, but it’s certainly in the pits. The teams, hailing from the UAE, China, Singapore, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and the USA, are a mix of motorsport engineers, programmers, and scientists–perhaps not a traditional motorsport mix, but one essential for learning, developing, and mastering autonomous racing. No matter who you are, or where you come from, if you’ve got skill, and the drive to win, A2RL will welcome you with open arms.

Lawrence Walter, Team Principal of American team Code19, knows the value of a talented crew: “In the race to innovate, Code19 is powered by our talented and diverse race engineers. They were scrupulously hand-picked from across industry and academia, to come to Abu Dhabi and take the $2.25M prize to the bank.”

The goal of the competition, as well as creating a good show, is to use the lessons learned on track and apply them to the wider world in myriad fields–automotive safety, logistics, aviation… you name it. There’s a years-long commitment going into A2RL and its desire to push technology forward–it’s even drawn the eye of significant partners like ADNOC.

A2RL’s story is just beginning, and it’s sure to be an exciting one thanks to fast cars and the smart people behind them. For the first time, autonomous cars will compete on the global stage. They’ll undergo a series of very real, and very public challenges not only to win an incredible $2.25M prize purse but to help develop the technology that will, one day, be a part of all of our lives.

The race will be broadcast live here, and if you want to learn more about A2RL click here.

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