The FIA’s plans to incorporate artificial intelligence into spectator safety have been put on hold due to the challenge involved with developing suitable technology.
Plans unveiled under Jean Todt’s leadership of international motorsport’s governing body to have the system in place for the start of this season have proved unrealistic. FIA rally director Andrew Wheatley admitted the project was ongoing, but confessed no new launch date had been agreed.
“The artificial intelligence camera project is still in development,” he said. “There was a 12-month development process where the intention was for it to be fitted in the car and we would be monitoring the information.
“That is not happening and we are behind schedule with that. The technology involved in getting the camera small enough that it doesn’t fill the screen is a challenge. So we’re still using the same system which is Nico [Klinger, FIA deputy safety delegate] following the in-car cameras.”
Asked when the system could be in place, Wheatley added: “We are working towards that. I think it’s a significant challenge, let’s put it that way. The prototype was good but the problem is identifying what is a human and identifying what is, for example, a post.”
While the FIA waits to implement the AI initiative – an initiative which will have cameras in every car specifically designed to use artificial intelligence to monitor the movement of fans between cars in the stages – Wheatley was quick to praise the work of Klinger.
Klinger uses onboard camera technology to do the same job, checking on spectators moving towards the road between the stages.
Wheatley shared a powerful but very real example of how important the new safety system will be.
“In Catalunya, on the powerstage last year, Gus Greensmith went through the stage and Nico noticed something underneath the Armco [barrier],” he said. “It was, basically, the back of a mobile phone.
“Using the system they’ve got, they can reverse back frame-by-frame-by-frame and he identified it was someone holding a mobile phone underneath the Armco at road level, they were lying at road level.
“Between Gus and the next car going through, which was Thierry Neuville in nine minutes, they were able to contact the marshal on the location, he was able to go to the corner, find the guy, move him, get him back up to the safe location.
“Then [Marco] Bulacia came through, locked up on the corner and went into the barrier and damaged the barrier at exactly, exactly the location the guy was lying on the floor.
“The concept is really good, the problem is there’s so much pressure on Nico sitting in front of a screen watching. We can’t have 10 Nicos sitting in line watching the image, we need to try to work with technology to understand how we can make that easier.”