What about an AI driven safety car?

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One story about off-road, but on-track car safety that we’ve been talking about quite a bit here lately at Telematics.com, is Formula 1 safety cars. Following the horrific crash by Jules Bianchi at the Japanese Grand Prix, where he lost control on a lap and collided with a recovery tractor, many drivers and ex-racers have been calling for safety cars to be used more, potentially every time there’s recovery vehicles or personnel near the track. However others and fans of the sport, have suggested that F1 is and always will be dangerous and that the safety car could neuter the sport and make it unexciting.

One solution that could perhaps please both parties, is a virtual safety car.

The idea stems from the fact that with the current yellow-flag system, which requires drivers to “slow down,” doesn’t specify by how much drivers should ease off. Chances are, they’re going to slow down more if they’re out in front or by themselves, whereas if other racers are around, they are likely to go faster just so as not to lose out if the other drivers do the same.

Some have suggested a locked speed limit for yellow flag laps, but Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting doesn’t think it will work, saying that drivers will always try and exploit loopholes, or skirt the law of the land if possible to gain an edge on their opponents, or at the very least, to stop their opponents getting an edge on them.

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Instead, he believes that a virtual safety car, or a set lap time minimum would prevent drivers from going too fast. However even better than that, would be an automated slow down feature, that allowed for a remote control of the cars’ maximum speeds, so that as they approached a dangerous part of the track, they could have their throttles limited to prevent over-speeding.

This sentiment was echoed by driver Anthony Davidson: “As a driver and having spoken to other drivers as well, I wouldn’t have an issue with a fully automated system to completely remove human input or decision-making processes from inside the car,” Davidson said. “I would fully accept it, if it was foolproof. The car automatically, gradually slowing down with everybody else at the same time. If it was completely automated you could have the slow zone as big, or as small and in whatever position on the track that you wanted.”

Of course other drivers may not be happy and fans might not like it either, but as The Guardian points out, it’s not unheard of for Formula 1 to have automated features on a car, with energy recovery and fuel limit-based lift-off also controlled by a computer and there’s been little complaint.

What do you guys think? Would a virtual speed limiter when a crash happens be a good way of protecting everyone without resorting too a safety car at every turn?

Image source: YahooAutos

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.