Man vs. machine: Racing driver takes on robot, John Henry-style

Cyberdine Systems, your race car has arrived.

A self-driving racing machine, known as DevBot, has thrown down the gauntlet to us mere humans, by challenging a professional race driver to set the fastest lap time on a street circuit in Rome. Representing mankind is Ryan Tuerck, a professional drifter who spends most of his time flinging his Toyota GT86 sideways around corners, all in a haze of tire smoke while competing in the U.S. Formula Drift series.

So you could say the non-robots are pretty well-represented, which is a good start.

Tuerck was invited to Rome to take on DevBot head-to-head and see who could set the fastest lap on a street circuit set up for the Formula E race series. While he’s no stranger to going fast — not to mention driving seriously sideways — Tuerck faced a learning curve coming to grips with the DevBot race car’s power and performance. You can check out his introduction to DevBot in this video:

The skeletal-looking race car is entirely electric-powered and sends a total of 550 horsepower to all four wheels. Weighing in at roughly 2,200 lbs., the Devbot definitely looks menacing, especially when tearing around a track without fancy bodywork to hide its mechanical innards. To be honest, the car looks kind of like a giant robotic bug — fans of “West World,” you’d love it.

So did the human squash its robotic rival? Tuerck was allowed some practice laps before setting his personal best time of 1 minute 51 seconds around the track. Once he was done, the computer was ready to take over.

DevBot itself is part of Roborace, a fledgling idea to pit engineers against each other and have robots battle it out on tracks around the world. The car is absolutely covered in sensors and bursting with tech. As it tears around a track, DevBot is reading the road (and the walls around it) using radar, lidar, ultrasonic sensors, and multiple cameras that provide the robot car with 360-degree vision.

Even in the video, the site of a race car blasting around a track, sans human driver, is surreal. The in-car camera, showing the seatbelts floating forward, almost ghost-like while under braking, is especially weird. As for the sound of the car, well, electric-powered racing machines aren’t known for their acoustical beauty. Imagine the BB-8 droid from “Star Wars” talking smack at a bar, and you’ve kind of got the idea. A Ferrari V-12, it’s not.

While it would have been pretty cool to see a human and machine duke it out side-by-side on the track, at this point the goal was to see who would set the fastest lap while running solo. Did Ryan Tuerck come out on top? Or are human drivers about to become as obsolete as, say, eight-track players?

Watch this concluding video to find out:

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