Every month, it seems, we get closer to a world full of self-driving cars. Google's tiny self-driving cars keep popping up in new states and cities; Ford and GM keep making strategic investments; and the all-electric Formula E is helping create Roborace, a fantastic-looking autonomous racing series.
So it's almost not surprising that angel investor and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Joshua Schachter recently announced plans to start his own autonomous racing series — though he admits it's going to be much more Mythbusters than Formula One.
"Instead of throwing huge dollars at it like the Roborace guys are — and not to put them down, I want to be very positive about them, but they have 10 teams and an expensive, high-end car — if people showed up with a self-driving jalopy, I’d be thrilled," Schachter says.
"If people showed up with a self-driving jalopy, I’d be thrilled."
Schachter might get just that. He says he doesn't want to create a series from the bottom up, which would involve things like designing cars, securing venues and sponsors, and inking content deals. Instead he wants it to be much more casual, essentially hosting an autonomous track day. "I’ll just have an event and see who shows up," Schachter says. "This would let me leverage my rolodex rather than my engineering skill, which is... insufficient."
Those connections start with Thunderhill Raceway in northern California, a track that Schachter already rents out a few times a year. Schachter is holding the first two self-driving track days on May 28th and 29th on one of Thunderhill's two road courses, though he's paying for them out of pocket. ("Sponsors would be nice," he says, "but i’m not counting on that.") Subsequent events will be held at Thunderhill, too, and Schachter says he'll eventually add things like time trials and actual races into the mix.
The idea has also drawn a fair amount of interest from both Silicon Valley and companies that are working on autonomous tech. Chris Anderson, the CEO of drone company 3D Robotics and former editor of Wired, is bringing a self-driving go-kart that he's been working on. Renovo — which showed off a $529,000 electric car at CES in 2015 and also worked on a self-drifting DeLorean — is also scheduled to attend. And Comma.ai, the self-driving tech company started by the famed jailbreaker of the original iPhone, will be there as well.
In total, 11 different groups or companies are already signed up for the first weekend. And while Schachter says he never intends for this to be a spectator sport, it's easy to see how he could continue to draw interest from small companies that don't have the funds to rent (or build) their own testing facilities. And, as the case will be with Roborace, the participants are likely to learn things in the tough, fast track environment that they couldn't learn on their own.
Schachter puts it more bluntly: "we'll make shit in the garage and then do stuff with it."