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McLaren enters esports race

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McLaren has become the first Formula 1 team to enter the esports arena, announcing World’s Fastest Gamer – an intense and demanding competition for virtual racers.

World’s Fastest Gamer is a contest that will see the winner offered the best job in esports – a role with the Formula 1 team as one of its official simulator drivers.

World’s Fastest Gamer is a collaboration between global sports and technology brand McLaren, founding partner Logitech G, a global leader in gaming gear and the founder of virtual motorsport’s famous GT Academy, Darren Cox. McLaren welcomes two further partners for launch. Sports media platform GIVEMESPORT and esport racing innovator Sparco.

The format pits the best gamers in the world across multiple racing platforms as they battle each other to discover the ultimate ‘champion of champions’.

The winner will be offered a one-year contract with McLaren to work in an official capacity as a simulator driver. They will work with engineers at both at the McLaren Technology Centre and at grand prix circuits across the world to develop and improve the machinery driven in the real world by the team’s drivers, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Billed as ‘the best job in esports’, the battle to find McLaren’s newest recruit will be viewable at every stage via a dedicated YouTube channel and McLaren’s social media channels. Six international finalists will be hand-picked by experts in both gaming and Formula 1 to join this year’s competition. A further four finalists will be selected from qualifying events online during summer 2017.

The grand finale, held at the McLaren Technology Centre in the autumn, will put all 10 hopefuls through one of the most rigorous job interviews in the world. Not only will they race against each other across a variety of different gaming titles on different platforms, they will also need to demonstrate their engineering know-how, ability to work as part of a team, and display the mental and physical strengths required for such a unique position.

McLaren Technology Group Executive Director Zak Brown said:

“This is a hugely exciting opportunity – not only within the gaming industry, but for everyone at McLaren and motorsport in general. We’ve long witnessed the growth of online sports gaming, and, right now, the parallels between the real and the virtual worlds have never been closer.

“This is absolutely the right time to be creating such a unique and exciting proposition; one that connects the worlds of racing and gaming in a way that’s never been explored before.

“I’m particularly proud that McLaren, alongside our partners Logitech, Sparco and GIVEMESPORT, have staked a claim as the very first sports and technology brand to venture into the diverse and fast-growing world of esports.

World’s Fastest Gamer really aims to democratise the process of finding the best virtual racer out there. The contest isn’t limited to one platform or one game; we’re very keen not to restrict access or entry for people, but rather welcome the worldwide gaming community, whether that’s on mobile or on high-end simulator platforms.

“And the winner will genuinely be a key part of our team at McLaren. This is for real: we absolutely require additional support across our two simulator platforms, so the competition and the selection process will be rigorous, ruthless and compelling to watch.”

Ujesh Desai, Vice President and General Manager, Logitech G commented:

“Logitech G has been in the esports world since the early days, and we’re happy to now work with McLaren to lead the next mainstream esport obsession! Joining McLaren as a founding partner of the World’s Fastest Gamer brings together our combined expertise on one virtual platform.”

“Logitech G Driving Force racing wheels are engineered for extreme performance and are designed to win; we’re proud to be able to provide them for these exciting events.”

“Logitech G and McLaren share an obsession for speed, cutting-edge technology and the passion of millions of fans. We can’t wait to see what the future will bring.”

Darren Cox, IDEAS+CARS Chief Maverick Officer, added:

“Gaming and esports are growing at an astonishing rate. The football industry has recognised this, with the result that activity has exploded between the real world and the virtual world in the last 18 months. Now, World’s Fastest Gamer will provide the focus for motorsport to talk directly to the huge numbers of passionate and dedicated gamers racing online – engaging and immersing them in the real world of racing.

“In McLaren and Logitech G, we have the perfect partner with whom to deliver this project: their constant focus on technical innovation and their authoritative position within motorsport’s digital communication sphere are the obvious major benefits. However, to align with a global sports and technology brand that is renowned for producing some of the world’s greatest Formula 1 cars, road cars, and that now applies insights from both to improve lives through its technology arm, gives us the opportunity to involve and integrate gamers from across a whole range of gaming platforms and racing interests.

“Motorsport will invest heavily in esports in the coming months and years, and World’s Fastest Gamer is at the very forefront of that movement.”

Where the real world meets the virtual world…

With teams, leagues and players from the world of sport investing heavily in esports – from Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, to West Ham United and the Philadelphia 76ers – virtual/reality collaborations are a fast-growing trend.

In the US, esports are already catching up with baseball and ice hockey. A recent US report found that 76% of esports enthusiasts now prefer the gaming equivalent to watching their favourite sports on TV.

esport is now one of the biggest sports in the world, with revenues now overtaking those of Hollywood. Global gaming is worth $100 billion, with year-on-year growth of almost 10%, and the esports global audience has already reached 300 million.

As viewership of motorsport is adjusting to new digital trends, and leading brands start to invest heavily in gaming instead of traditional sports sponsorship, the message for the sports industry is apparent: virtual sport offers a compelling way forward.

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Project Bloodhound saved

The British project to break the world landspeed record at a site in the Northern Cape has been saved by a new backer, after it went into bankruptcy proceedings in October.

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Two weeks ago,  and two months after entering voluntary administration, the Bloodhound Programme Limited announced it was shutting down. This week it announced that its assets, including the Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC), had been acquired by an enthusiastic – and wealthy – supporter.

“We are absolutely delighted that on Monday 17th December, the business and assets were bought, allowing the Project to continue,” the team said in a statement.

“The acquisition was made by Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Ian Warhurst. Ian is a mechanical engineer by training, with a strong background in managing a highly successful business in the automotive engineering sector, so he will bring a lot of expertise to the Project.”

Warhurst and his family, says the team, have been enthusiastic Bloodhound supporters for many years, and this inspired his new involvement with the Project.

“I am delighted to have been able to safeguard the business and assets preventing the project breakup,” he said. “I know how important it is to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and maths, and I want to ensure Bloodhound can continue doing that into the future.

“It’s clear how much this unique British project means to people and I have been overwhelmed by the messages of thanks I have received in the last few days.”

The record attempt was due to be made late next year at Hakskeen Pan in the Kalahari Desert, where retired pilot Andy Green planned to beat the 1228km/h land-speed record he set in the United States in 1997. The target is for Bloodhound to become the first car to reach 1000mph (1610km/h). A track 19km long and 500 metres wide has been prepared, with members of the local community hired to clear 16 000 tons of rock and stone to smooth the surface.

The team said in its announcement this week: “Although it has been a frustrating few months for Bloodhound, we are thrilled that Ian has saved Bloodhound SSC from closure for the country and the many supporters around the world who have been inspired by the Project. We now have a lot of planning to do for 2019 and beyond.”

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Motor Racing meets Machine Learning

The futuristic car technology of tomorrow is being built today in both racing cars and
toys, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The car of tomorrow, most of us imagine, is being built by the great automobile manufacturers of the world. More and more, however, we are seeing information technology companies joining the race to power the autonomous vehicle future.

Last year, chip-maker Intel paid $15.3-billion to acquire Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology. Google’s autonomous taxi division, Waymo, has been valued at $45-billion.

Now there’s a new name to add to the roster of technology giants driving the future.

DeepRacer on the inside

Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing service and a subsidiary of Amazon.com,  last month unveiled a scale model autonomous racing car for developers to build new artificial intelligence applications. Almost in the same breath, at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, it showcased the work being done with machine learning in Formula 1 racing.

AWS DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale fully autonomous race car, designed to incorporate the features and behaviour of a full-sized vehicle. It boasts all-wheel drive, monster truck tires, an HD video camera, and on-board computing power. In short, everything a kid would want of a self-driving toy car.

But then, it also adds everything a developer would need to make the car autonomous in ways that, for now, can only be imagined. It uses a new form of machine learning (ML), the technology that allows computer systems to improve their functions progressively as they receive feedback from their activities. ML is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), and will be core to autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

AWS has taken ML a step further, with an approach called reinforcement learning. This allows for quicker development of ML models and applications, and DeepRacer is designed to allow developers to experiment with and hone their skill in this area. It is built on top of another AWS platform, called Amazon SageMaker, which enables developers and data scientists to build, train, and deploy machine learning quickly and easily.

Along with DeepRacer, AWS also announced the DeepRacer League, the world’s first global autonomous racing league, open to anyone who orders the scale model from AWS.

DeepRacer on the outside

As if to prove that DeepRacer is not just a quirky entry into the world of motor racing, AWS also showcased the work it is doing with the Formula One Group. Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s managing director of Motor Sports, joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy during the keynote address at the re:Invent conference, to demonstrate how motor racing meets machine learning.

“More than a million data points a second are transmitted between car and team during a Formula 1 race,” he said. “From this data, we can make predictions about what we expect to happen in a wheel-to-wheel situation, overtaking advantage, and pit stop advantage. ML can help us apply a proper analysis of a situation, and also bring it to fans.

“Formula 1 is a complete team contest. If you look at a video of tyre-changing in a pit stop – it takes 1.6 seconds to change four wheels and tyres – blink and you will miss it. Imagine the training that goes into it? It’s also a contest of innovative minds.”

AWS CEO Andy Jassy unveils DeepRacer

Formula 1 racing has more than 500 million global fans and generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2017. As a result, there are massive demands on performance, analysis and information. 

During a race, up to 120 sensors on each car generate up to 3GB of data and 1 500 data points – every second. It is impossible to analyse this data on the fly without an ML platform like Amazon SageMaker. It has a further advantage: the data scientists are able to incorporate 65 years of historical race data to compare performance, make predictions, and provide insights into the teams’ and drivers’ split-second decisions and strategies.

This means Formula 1 can pinpoint how a driver is performing and whether or not drivers have pushed themselves over the limit.

“By leveraging Amazon SageMaker and AWS’s machine-learning services, we are able to deliver these powerful insights and predictions to fans in real time,” said Pete Samara, director of innovation and digital technology at Formula 1.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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