By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Formula E boss Alejandro Agag has brought plenty of novelty to the world's first all-electric motor racing series and now he is wondering about unleashing fake dogs as a hazard for driverless cars.
If that idea sounds virtually barking, the 46-year-old Spaniard appears to be serious.
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Speaking ahead of races in New York this weekend, Agag ran the rule over some of his championship's technological innovations -- from 'fanboost' to digital dimensions and driverless racing cars -- and ventured one step beyond.
Part of the program envisages futuristic-looking 'Roborace' cars doing demonstration laps around the Brooklyn street circuit.
Formula E organizers hope ultimately to have up to 10 of the cars racing together, run by teams who write their own software, around city tracks as a support event to their series.
They are not there yet, however, and the format of any such race has yet to be decided.
One problem is that all are likely to be programmed to take the perfect line around the track and may not be able to overtake.
Agag's view, however, is that the driverless technology is less about motorsport than safety and that maybe highlighting the latter is the best way forward.
"Maybe the way to do it is to have (the cars lap) one by one and see which one is safer," he told Reuters. "So you throw in a fake dog for example, a fake obstacle, and see how the car reacts to that."
"The fake dog has to be fake," he added, firmly.
GEEKS AND GAMERS
Such thinking is typical of Formula E, a series that appeals as much if not more to geeks and gamers than old-style petrolheads.
While Formula One talks about entering a digital era, with an expansion of social media and putting content onto previously neglected platforms under new owners Liberty Media, Formula E has enjoyed a head start.
"The digital world is so wide that you can do a million things and you don't collide with someone else doing another million things," said Agag.
"We keep having new ideas that nobody has done and maybe they (Formula One Management) are having some ideas that nobody has done.
"They have started a little bit late but we can see the new team is really pushing on that and doing some interesting things. But we started much earlier."
That means near-live clips on social media platforms such as Instagram Stories and Snapchat, with the best race action soon after it has happened.
'Fanboost' is another example, allowing fans to vote online with the three most popular drivers given a power boost during the race. Once seen as a gimmick, it has become widely accepted.
"I think Fanboost is not discussed any more," said Agag. "People have accepted that Fanboost is a great tool and particularly sponsors love Fanboost and the openness that it gives, the access and engagement with the fans and so on."
Gaming and eSports is also increasingly to the fore, with Formula E having already staged a virtual event in Las Vegas pitting gamers against the real racing drivers on simulators.
"We are moving to the limit with live and gaming," said Agag.
In New York, Formula E will hook up with the Real Racing3 gaming platform.
Fans will set their times on simulators at the real racetrack and the fastest will compete against the Formula E drivers in a virtual race to be livestreamed through mobile phones and watched around the world.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)