Goodwood Festival of Speed – Roborace becomes first autonomous car to complete Hill Climb

Car stuff, Gadgets

There’s so much of interest for car enthusiasts at the Goodwood Festival of Speed from classic cars, such as the original Ford Mustang ‘Bullitt’ driven by Steve McQueen, to modern day super cars like the Lamborghini Aventador. However it was the development of autonomous vehicles like the Roborace which most interested us. Chris Price reports from the festival….

This year the Goodwood Festival of Speed (FOS) celebrated its Silver Anniversary. During this time it has firmly established itself as the UK’s premier motor show, beating off competition from the British International Motor Show held at various venues in its long history from 1903 to 2008.

It’s not difficult to see the appeal either. Rather than just viewing cars in a sterile exhibition hall, like Birmingham’s NEC (where I spent many a happy year with my Dad back in the 1970s), you actually get to see, even sit inside, a lot of the cars in the open, in a truly spectacular setting.

Great if it’s lovely and sunny as it was last weekend, not so good perhaps in the pouring rain which we normally experience in the final week of Wimbledon!

Glasto for cars

So big a setting is Goodwood in fact that it takes you several hours to cover the various areas on foot (and a fair amount of time to get in the venue too if you are driving in, which most people inevitably are).

Think of it as the Glastonbury for car buffs with various fields dedicated to different types of cars – much like different musical genres or bands. Some people even camp all weekend, as with a music festival, because there really is so much to look at.

Best of all you can see many of the cars racing throughout the day up the famous Goodwood Hill Climb – a stretch of race track measuring 1.86Km (1.16 miles) taking you past the beautiful Goodwood House which is the seat of the Duke of Richmond.

Be Steve McQueen for the day!

As well as thousands of classic cars, race cars, motorbikes and even some planes and helicopters, all the major car manufacturers had vast stands at Goodwood where they showed off their latest models .

This year’s line-up included Tesla which was previewing its latest, ‘affordable’ electric Model 3 car which should be available next year for a price of around £35,000.

Ford, who invited Tech Digest along to the festival, also had an impressive stand where you could see its latest Mustangs on display (see below) as well as a very nippy new Ford Fiesta ST (we drove it to the festival and it really handled very well around the narrow country roads).

There were also various fun activities to take part in including a green screen where you could ‘appear’ in a movie poster for Bullitt (see pic above) as well as a your very own ‘movie’ where you could star in place of the late Steve McQueen in the famous car park chase sequence.

There was also a virtual reality experience, called Share The Road, where it was possible to experience the road as either a cyclist or driver to help you become more aware of a different road user’s perspective.

Finally there was Ford jump where you could leap from the Ford stand onto a mat below. All good fun!

Another interesting section at Goodwood is the Future Lab where you can see future developments in travel, not just on the road, but in space too. Here I got to play with a very shiny lunar module from Japan-based iSpace which is hoping to become the first private company to launch a module to investigate the surface of the moon in 2020.

Pictured with the latest and very powerful Ford Mustang which I got to drive around during the Goodwood Festival of Speed, courtesy of Ford. I was even wearing a T-Shirt to match. 

I also got to see the latest delivery drones used by companies such as DHL to take parcels to remote areas which are difficult to access by road (ie. the Swiss Alps) as well as a completely autonomous race car called Roborace (pictured at the top of the page and below).

Indeed one of the major achievements at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed was that Roborace made history by becoming the very first car to achieve the Goodwood Hill Climb without a driver (not even a midget hidden inside as someone suggested).

A very low slung robotic car, the Roborace managed an impressive average speed of over 60mph during the Goodwood Hill Climb

Designed by Daniel Simon, the automotive futurist best known for his work in Hollywood films such as Oblivion and Tron, the extremely low-slung vehicle (it’s amazing how low you can make it when you don’t need a human) expertly navigated flint walls and bales of hay on the Goodwood estate using a variety of sensors – and all this on Friday 13th of all days!

Autonomous future?

Roborace’s track time wasn’t too shoddy either, averaging a little over 60 miles per hour to complete the testing course in around 1 minute 30 seconds (OK it’s a little off the record of 41.6 seconds set by a racing driver, but it’s still not bad).

Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the semi-autonomous Ford Mustang with humans inside (albeit not in control of the vehicle). Developed by Siemens in conjunction with engineers from Cranfield University, it did eventually make it to the top of the hill but in a time of over 4 minutes and only after an altercation with several bales of hay – see pic taken from the Goodwood TV feed below.


While the future of cars on the road may well be autonomous it seems we’ve got a few more years of enjoying car shows like the Goodwood Festival of Speed, complete with fully functioning human drivers on the road, before we get to that stage! 

You can watch Roborace complete the Goodwood Hill Climb in the YouTube video below:


Chris Price
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