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Brilliant or bonkers? A driverless racing car: ED Design Torq

If you already find modern F1 races sleep inducingly dull, imagine what a race between autonomous cars would look like…. The concept of a driverless racing car doesn’t seem to make sense at first, but the reasoning behind the ED Design Torq is almost as simple as it is laughable. Michael Robinson, Design director and CEO of ED Design, has noticed that new technology in production vehicles is usually first developed and tested in racing cars on a circuit before hitting the streets in the cars you and me can buy. He also noticed increasing investments in autonomous driving by almost any major car manufacturer. He then combined these two ideas to conclude the world desperately needs a driverless racing car to test the technology before self-driving cars can hit our streets. He jumped into this supposed opportunity and created the Torq, a racing car without windows and without a steering wheel.

Thankfully, ED Design isn’t yet planning to start a racing series with autonomous cars anytime soon, but instead will build a handful of Torq driverless cars in the next 24 hours and rent them out to major automakers, IT companies and government lawmakers as “Mobile Autonomous Automobile Laboratory” for them to experiment with driverless cars and to turn it into an “open-source” technology. The press release states “MAAL asks researchers around the world to join this noble endeavor in the automotive industry to stop killing millions of people.

Whoah, wait a minute, the automotive industry is killing millions of people??? Well, according to Robinson, they are somewhat indirectly by knowingly against better judgment clinging on to “old-fashioned” technology like steering wheels and glass to see what’s outside of the vehicle. In his mind, the world desperately needs autonomous cars to eliminate road toll: “The primary objective of the MAAL project is […] helping ex-drivers forget their fanatic need for steering wheels, for full control of their automobile. In order to not only reduce those terrifying numbers (of road deaths as a result of “full control of the automobile”, red.), but actually eliminate them, the act of driving must be eliminated, prohibited, becoming a thing of the past, like the Beatles and phone booths.” (Emphasis mine)

Using the Beatles to prove his point that humans in control of a vehicle is a thing of the past is a bit far-fetched and signifies this man’s mind is way ahead of what ordinary people like you and me can only grasp.

Despite its apparent advantage in saving the lives of millions of people, Robinson sees autonomous driving as one of the biggest threats to car enthusiasts and therefore the automobile industry, something he thinks the “arrogant” CEOs in Detroit, Europe and Japan don’t yet realize. In his vision, self-driving cars will turn cars into appliances (at their Geneva Auto Show booth, they even showed pictures of a washing machine next to the Google self-driving car to prove this point), but the automotive world and car enthusiasts alike need to worry no longer, because Robinson has made it his personal mission to make sure this horrific scenario won’t become reality. The Torq autonomous racing car is his solution, because it will bring fun into driverless driving. Can you still follow this line of thinking?

I don’t think the same CEOs he calls arrogant and ignorant to whomever listens to him will be very excited to take delivery of a futuristic spaceship that offers technology they either already have developed themselves, or don’t see as relevant for the near future, for example the 360° surround-view OLED screens that replace all the external glass in the car.

But I do think the world (including the automotive industry) needs visionaries and dreamers, no matter how insane or out-of-this-world their ideas may be. These way-out-of-the-box thinkers breed innovation by inspiring others who would otherwise have thought too narrow-minded to envision something perhaps more realistic in the short- and medium terms. The ED Design Torq isn’t meant to become reality as a replacement to our current forms of transportation. And autonomous racing won’t kill the careers of Pastor Maldonado and Kurt Busch anymore than they’re already doing themselves.

The ED Design Torq is the result of thinking without being constrained by realism, and as a result, it should act as an inspiration others working on self-driving cars and as a scenario of where the automotive industry may be heading. Or not.