Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Car racing unrestricted

The story of modern car racing has been adding more and more restrictions on the car technology. These restrictions have been for the purpose of slowing the cars down to increase driver safety. Restrictor plates in NASCAR are one example.

But before the modern era, improvements in technology could help win the race, and I like this more as a technologist. Perhaps advances in racing cars could benefit consumer cars as well.

I support removal of technology restrictions, but we face the problem of ensuring driver safety, especially in some quantitative way which may be enforced evenly among different race teams who may choose to build their cars in different ways.

One solution is insurance or variant thereof. A team is required to pay, say, $50 million if the driver dies. The team may not start the race until you have proved it can pay (no declaring bankrupcy if the driver dies). It might be tricky to figure out who gets paid to avoid perverse incentives (for example, if the driver's heirs are members of the same racing team). Perhaps some of the money goes to charity.

To prevent injuries as well as death, the team is also required to show that the driver has sufficient health insurance, whose terms include that coverage may not be terminated for injuries (possibly chronic) from racing even if the driver is let go by the team.

Another far more radical solution is to remove the driver from the car. The driver drives by remote control from a virtual reality flight simulator station. I especially like this idea because it will result in improvements in drive-by-wire (and drive-by-wireless) technologies. No doubt cars will incorporate gadgets to help drivers drive better -- these pave the way toward automated cars that drive themselves.

And finally, this is a bit of a digression, but I'd like to see a car-racing league where teams are forbidden from suing each other for patent or trade secret (etc.) infringement. I hope this will encourage the most rapid development of car technology. Certainly patents may be filed and will be relevant if the technology is commercialized.

Another completely different idea is to use truly stock cars, fresh off the dealer lot with no modifications. Every driver drives an identical car so it's all about driver skill. Furthermore, spectators can sympathize because many of them drive the same car.

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