Autonomous vehicles: Have we reached the end of the road?…Garry Jacobson off to good start in title defense…Chequebook record for stunning Pininfarina…

Mikel Alonso separates what he claims is fact from fiction in Aurecon’s latest Just Imagine blog post: ‘Will autonomous vehicles really reinvent transportation or will they exasperate our overburdened systems?’ It’s something of a straw man argument in that to our knowledge, the auto industry has never really claimed that AVs will alleviate congestions. The gist of the article that we need a multi-faceted, long-term solutions to a complex problem, is, however, valid.

We set our sights on a future that involves autonomous vehicles long ago. As predictors of what the future will look like, movies have proven eerily accurate. It’s 1966 and Batman uses a remote control to summon the Batmobile. Fast forward to 2002’s Minority Report and autonomous self-driving vehicles weave, almost magically, on magnetic cushions through Steven Spielberg’s futuristic Washington DC.

Fiction has become fact. We’re standing on the brink of a driving revolution with the race on for which car manufacturer will be the first to roll out a line of completely self-driven vehicles. At the same time, as urban areas experience a rapid influx of people and population growth, the need for sustainable mass public transport solutions has become ever more urgent.

At the same time as car manufacturers drive the autonomous vehicles (AV) revolution, governments are ploughing billions into mass transit solutions. All of which raises a number of questions, such as:

  • Should this investment be redirected to accelerate the manufacture of AVs, given that mass transit solutions could be made somewhat redundant once AVs hit the road? Is this a race with only one winner, or is there a space for two winners?
  • Will the billions that are being poured in to mass transit become a gross over expenditure when the AV becomes common place?
  • But more importantly: Can AVs really reinvent transportation systems?

Driverless vehicles are being touted for their potential to resolve traffic congestion and improve road safety. The current narrative would suggest that car ownership will be a thing of the past as shared AVs take centre stage and older modes of public transport are relegated to the pages of history. The story goes that these vehicles will be cheaper, more convenient and because they will be constantly in use, dispense with the need for car parks. Traffic jams will be a distant memory as all the AVs platoon on the freeways.

There’s also the economic benefit related to increased productivity. Need to catch up on emails? With your eyes off the road, you can confidently turn your attention to work. This is hands-free at its best iteration. It certainly sounds like a simple, indefectible, even, solution to a convoluted problem. But on closer inspection: How utopian is this future; is it as ‘realistic’ as the movies; and are we, right at this moment, wasting billions of dollars on mass transit?

The existing infrastructure in many urban areas simply cannot support more vehicles on the roads. Concurrently, automobile sales are forecast to climb rapidly along with a growing middle class, who can afford the luxury. When the AV hits the market, who’s to say it won’t exacerbate rather than relieve the existing traffic burden by putting even more vehicles on the road? There is also the culture and mindset shift that will be required to get people to adopt AVs. Take the electric car for instance. There’s been talk of it for some time now, yet in most of the developed world, the majority of people are still opting for petrol-driven cars.

Without wanting to completely quash the benefits of AVs, here’s why it’s counterintuitive to hail the advent of the AV as the end of traffic congestion, at least in the short to medium term). Show me the money is the big ask, in other words, the cost factor. For now the technology would be out of reach of most people. Various forms of car sharing are predicted to counter this, but how willing will we be to adapt and give up that personal space and autonomy? Security also poses a risk. Countries would need to put some serious governance measures in place to handle AVs.

As The Guardian has pointed out, if they ever hit the roads, self-driving cars will prove an irresistible target for hackers and more AVs does not equal less traffic: “The difference in congestion between total chaos and a perfectly ordered driving system, the kind proposed in a future with autonomous vehicles, is only about 33%,” write co- authors Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths in Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions. There’s no easy fix. Christian and Griffith sum up it up succinctly: “Congestion will always be a problem solvable more by planners and by overall demand than by the decisions of individual drivers, human or computer, selfish or cooperative.”

Here’s the rub though: there’s no quick-fix solution. Focusing on problem solving, the current situation is akin to slapping a sticking plaster over a festering wound. For the foreseeable future, AVs alone are unlikely to be the elusive panacea to our transport woes that will require multi-faceted, long-term solutions to a complex problem.

Most cities have transport systems that rely on outdated economic models, un-integrated assets and obsolete technology and this is the key. It’s exactly where city planners need to focus their energies on conceptualising innovative research, carefully considering benefit-cost assessments and adopting holistic transport solutions. This includes, for example, consideration of what commuters experience when leaving their place of residence and travel into a CBD; the integration of transport modes to assure optimal journeys; the impact that dynamic population growth will have on infrastructure development to keep up.

It’s time for cities to be proactive The time for stopgap, Band-Aid measures is over. In the long term, the cities that forge ahead will be those that place urban planning at the forefront of the city agenda. Cities need to invest in effective, efficient and safe public transport, but this requires political will. For change to be effected, partnerships need to be forged between governments, the private sector and the community.

Crucially, all efforts must be underpinned by broad collaboration between the three in order to define the problem and then translate meaningful policies into long-term transport solutions that will transform the lives of the populace. These integrated transport solutions will include optimal blends of pedestrian zones, privately-owned vehicles, shared transport services, mass public transit systems and mobility services like Uber and Lyft. We can’t ‘science’ our way out of this one by summoning an AV and, of course, the regulatory environment must be conducive for the whole transport ecosystem to operate seamlessly.

The mobility evolution is here. Tom Cruise and his Minority Report vision of transport is still many decades away. It’s the cities that respond to the need, adapt and remain at the forefront of the evolution that will lead their citizens into this brave new world and get them moving around the city in a multi-modal mix of technological solutions that combine autonomous and manual, public and private, shared and individual and mass versus dedicated.

Navigating the blend of these modalities is where the real intellect will come into play. We won’t simply be able to join the creed ‘all hail the AV’ because once we get to that space, the arguments for the next leap to ‘beam me up, Scotty’ will be on the table for our innovators.

NOTE: Aurecon has launched the new ‘futuristic’ blog Just Imagine that claims to provide a glimpse into the future for curious readers. It’s billed a mixture of ideas that are probable, possible or imaginable. This post originally appeared on the blog. You can get access to the latest posts, as soon as they are published, by subscribing to the blog.

 

Garry Jacobson off to good start in title defence

Reigning Dunlop Super2 Series (formerly the Dunlop Supercar Series) champion Garry Jacobson scored his first race win of the 2017 season with a sensational last-lap pass for the lead at Phillip Island’s third round of the series, writes motor racing correspondent Paul Marinelli. The Exedy-sponsored driver put the Prodrive Racing Australia entry #1 Ford FG X Falcon, with its brand new Mega Fuels-backed livery, on the front row in a tight qualifying to set the grid for the first of four races at Phillip Island.

Garry held second place behind the Nissan Altima of Jack Le Brocq in the opening race, holding station until a late safety-car period set up a dash to the finish. Jacobson judged his move to perfection, waiting to turn three of the final lap to sweep into the lead for his first win of the season.

“It was just a bit of keeping calm when he pulled away at the start of the race and trying to keep the car on the track and allow my car to have its chance to fight at the end. It was pretty good fun out there with the sprinkles of rain and the pass I made going into turn three. It was pretty risky but I’m glad it came off,” he said.

The win handed Jacobson pole position for the second race of the event. And though he dropped behind Le Brocq, his hopes of repeating his last-lap move came to naught when he suffered a tyre puncture at the fastest point of the circuit on the penultimate lap. The retirement forced Garry to start the third race at the rear of the field in 22nd place. But he used his car speed and some aggressive driving to fight his way back to eighth place despite further tyre concerns.

His progression through the field continued in the fourth and final race, climbing to fifth place in the race, eighth place for the round and in seventh place in the Super2 championship standings. “We’ve got a lot of work to do now for Townsville (7-9 July) for our next Super2 round, but with what we’ve learnt from the last three rounds I think we can be more competitive at a street circuit.”

 

Renault has revealed its vision for the future of Formula 1 with the release of some stunning images of what it believes the cars could look like in 10 years’ time. Outlining its findings in Shanghai, to mark 40 years in Formula 1, the French team believe F1 2027 could bring ‘a more human-centric championship with drivers at the heart of the sport. This is illustrated by a transparent cockpit and a transparent helmet that allow the drivers to be seen in the heat of the action. The race team also anticipate ‘a more spectacular show’ thanks to LED lighting on the car wheels and moving aerodynamic parts. There could also be more extensive interaction between the cars and greater connection with spectators, allowing fans to view telemetry data of their favourite driver.

When you’ve won five endurance classics in the ‘Green Hell’ that is the Eifel Mountains, you’re entitled to some special treatment and that’s exactly what the Nürburgring 24 Hours (GER) team will get in the form of the number 43 BMW M6 GT3 with a special, historic design.

BMW Team Schnitzer wrote the first chapter of its glorious history at the Nürburgring 24 Hours back in 1989. The team from Freilassing (GER) claimed its first overall victory at the endurance classic on the Nordschleife in the same year as it won its maiden DTM title. After 143 laps of racing, eventual DTM champion Roberto Ravaglia, Emanuele Pirro (both ITA) and Fabien Giroix (FRA) crossed the finish line first in the iconic BMW M3 E30. In memory of this success BMW Team Schnitzer will return to the Eifel track in 2017 with one of the two BMW M6 GT3s sporting the same historic design as the winning car from 1989.

This is a particularly special honour for Charly Lamm, who was team principal when BMW Team Schnitzer claimed its first major Nordschleife success, a role he still occupies today: “The historic livery on the BMW M6 GT3 is a nice throw-back to our first victory. The stripes in the classic BMW Motorsport colours, in particular, evoke a lot of memories among the many BMW fans in the Eifel region and give us extra motivation to do everything in our power to get a good result on our return to the Nordschleife.”

Moving right along, from Monza to Dallas, where the Leake Auction Company has just sold the most expensive vehicle in its nearly 50-year history. This ultra-exotic 2014 Ferrari LaFerrari, a one-owner gem with less than 600ks on the clock and designed by Pininfarina, cost its new owner $US3.7m. And what a stunning performance tour de force he, or she, got for the money. Powered by Ferrari’s most-powerful-ever V12 engine topped by an F1-derived HY-KERS hybrid system that deliver a combined 949 horsepower, the vehicle can go through 100km/h in less than three seconds on the way to a top of around three-hundred-and-fifty ks. And all this is wrapped in an absolutely gorgeously designed body built out of the latest space age materials.

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