Spectating at a rally race can be a risky proposition. Even if you're unfamiliar with rally events, a simple YouTube search for "people vs. rally cars" can quickly bring you up to speed about the risks of being a rally spectator. According to a press release issued by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and German tech conglomerate Siemens, in excess of four million spectators attended rally races in 2018, but how do you keep them all safe?
Part of the thrill and appeal of rally racing is the access that fans have to the rally stage. The closeness of the fans to the race cars -- often close enough to touch -- presents huge risks. It's possible to mitigate those risks significantly, however, if you can keep fans a safe distance away from a racecar's path, as well as on the inside of a turn as opposed to outside of it where cars have a tendency to run wide, lose their grip, and pulverize everything in their path.
Unfortunately, though, we live in a world where you can't trust people, let alone rally spectators, to act in their own best interests. That's where folks at the FIA and Siemens step in. The two groups announced a project on Wednesday at the Geneva International Motor Show to leverage the latest in adaptive-driver-assistance tech, connected vehicle tech and 3D modeling to help keep spectators from harm.
But, as has long been the case with racing safety advancements, what the FIA-Siemens alliance learns will undoubtedly have effects that reach beyond the rally stage. According to Jean Todt, FIA president, "This agreement between Siemens and the FIA on a project that involves R&D at the highest level of motorsport and urban transportation technology will enable us to make racing safer and significantly influence the development of transportation in smart cities."
With the way rally stages are set up -- they're often over 15 miles long -- it's challenging to have safety staff stationed along the entire route to protect onlookers. Artificial intelligence, X2X communication and even custom neural networking can fill in safety gaps (and perhaps even replace human personnel) to help spot spectators in harm's way.
"We look forward to working with the FIA to determine how automated and connected vehicle technologies can be used to make rally drivers and spectators safer, and applying what we learn to improve the safety of drivers and pedestrians in urban mobility environments," said Marcus Welz, president of Siemens Intelligent Traffic Systems in North America.