David and I were invited down to the O2 Arena with the promise that we’d be driving a life-size remote control cab, all to promote an awesome sounding new TV series on Dave, called Driving Wars.
Driving Wars pitches two teams against each other in an extreme driving competition using real cars fitted with remote control systems. So naturally we jumped at the chance to come along and test out the mechanism they use in a London Black Cab.
Dr James Brighton and Colin Murray
It’s the same system that has been used in Fifth Gear crash tests, on Top Gear and numerous other film and TV stunts. The remote control operates a compressed air system and robotic arms that drive the car. It was designed by Dr James Brighton (pictured standing above).
It can be fitted to absolutely any car, or even to trucks and boats. Normally the driving is carried out by the engineers who build the mechanism, but for some reason they were keen to let us have a go.
Driving a normal remote control car isn’t hard, push forward and it goes faster, left and right makes it turn. However the set-up that we were given was rather more complex. The left joystick on the remote control was for the accelerator, but knocking it left or right would change gear, meaning it was very easy to go into reverse while at 40mph.
The right joystick controlled the brake, but the default setting (where the joystick naturally rested) was with brakes half-on. Meaning you had to push it forward to release the brakes, then pull it back to apply them. The horizontal axis for that joystick then also controlled the steering.
Confused? So were we!
We were ushered up to a seriously unstable platform where we were joined Colin Murray, the host of the show. It was his first time too, and he sneakily shotgunned to go last.
With just a thin fence separating the driving area from the River Thames, it was pretty nerve-racking. After a seriously jumpy start I managed to get the cab heading relatively straight in the right direction and it quickly became quite natural and a huge amount of fun!
After we’d each had a go confidence got the better of us so we started a bit of competition, with timed laps, during which many cones got destroyed, the engineer got annoyed and Colin Murray proved he’s not afraid of bending the rules.
Finally we decided it might be fun to see what it’s like to be driven around in a driverless taxi, and after consulting the reluctant health and safety lady, and signing our lives away, we were permitted to get in. It’s a seriously bizarre experience. The compressed air and robotic arms that make up the system make some unsettling noises and the engineer controlling the car decided to show us how capable his baby was, so wasn’t holding back. It was easily the fastest and scariest cab ride I’d ever experience, with plenty of near-roll-overs and screeching tyres.
The set-up that the contestants will be using on Driving Wars will be even more complex, but easier to control. They’ll be sitting in a stationery car, whose steering wheel, brake and accelerator control the remote control car that’s outside on the huge 44 acre driving arena. They’ll be viewing the action within their stationery car from a number of TV screens that show live-videos broadcast from cameras on the remote-control car outside.
Challenges include trying to drive as far along a road as possible, whilst being rammed off by armoured trucks, outrunning police cars and trying to complete the biggest jump possible. Our favourite sounding challenge involves a tank firing at their remote control cars and them having to survive as long as possible!
Dr James Brighton and Colin Murray
To source the cars they turned to classified sites and auctions. Over 40 cars were bought and used (28 were complete write-offs), including a Jaguar XK8, MG F and Jeep Cherokee.
Tune in on tonight and on every Wedensday at 9pm on Dave to watch it. There are 8 episodes in total, and we can’t wait to see what it’s like!