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Back To The Future: Let’s Talk About Cars

With a deadline to have all petrol and diesel engine cars banned from sale by 2040, what will the future of cars look like? Driverless, battery-powered, silent or perhaps flying cars?

A Future Without Drivers

There has been a gradual rise of car accidents on the road due to more distractions such as the heightened use of smartphones, drink-drivers and the fact that millennials are more likely to take risks on the roads. It’s also been reported that Generation Z have an attention span of 8 seconds due to their tech-induced upbringing, which could also be very detrimental to driver safety.

Fortunately, from 2020 we could see the first iterations of driverless cars. A recent prototype from BMW was seen  autonomously shifting lanes and gears in dense traffic from the press of a button. That’s not to say it’s perfect. Engineer Michael Aeberhard who was driving the car still had to stay alert so he could switch to manual driving if the A.I. got confused.

In a sense this could promote a more intuitive version of driver assist where both the vehicle and driver co-operate together to keep a steady driving performance.

The main issue with artificial intelligence is that all progress is a product of data-driven inputs. Where humans can adapt to situations utilizing knowledge and intuition, A.I. at this current standpoint can perform in the context of previously experienced data but lacks “common-sense” follow-throughs to deal with emerging real world situations.

MIT-spinoff iSee, is looking into creating machine-learning that mimics how the human mind works. Utilizing methods known as “probabilistic programming” it takes elements of cognitive science and physics to allow A.I’s to adapt to multiple tasks. In the case of driverless cars, this could translate into anticipating the behaviour of other road users such as a driver in front emerging from a junction into the AI’s road.

Highway To The Uber Zone

Project Elevate, a flying car initiative set up by Uber is hoping to bring a future aerial-taxi service to the world by 2020. Uber’s head of product Jeff Holden announced Dallas and Dubai will be the first trial cities to be working with Uber to bring this concept to fruition.

More recently, it was also announced that Uber has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create a new air-traffic control system to create a safe and viable infrastructure for low-flying aircraft. Consequently, this project requires additional resources including landing pads and depots being built.

Whilst a big and inherently risky venture, it’s one of great interest. Companies such as Boeing and Airbus are interested in making flying-car aircraft and Uber is already in talks regarding collaborating with real-estate firms, city planners and more manufacturers to bring their idea to global fruition in the future.

Escape from Los Angeles

Los Angeles was announced as the third city to test out Uber’s experiment. Holden stated that Los Angeles is “one of the most congested cities in the world today. They essentially have no mass transit infrastructure. This type of approach allows us to very inexpensively deploy a mass transit method that actually doesn’t make traffic worse.”
However there are considerable obstacles to be overcome such as concerns around pricing, scalability and what safety precautions can be put in place. Also seeing that Uber wants these flying cars to be driverless, will there be an override of sorts if the car suddenly stops and falls out of the sky?

Price and logistics-wise, Holden states that Uber is aiming to keep the price very low “costing as little as $20.” Given how advanced and expensive the service will be to implement, Holden still remains optimistic about the initiative.

“We’ve studied this carefully and we believe it is scalable,” We’ve done the hard work so we can build skyports, and can get the throughput operationally to move tens of thousands flights per day per city.”

I guess time will tell if Uber’s new conquest will be the pie in the sky, or another example of a pipedream that flies too close to the sun. Either way, we look forward to what the future brings.