David Belo, John Dales, and Camilo Pardo on driverless tech
● THE FORMULA ONE ENGINEER
At MCLAREN GROUP, DAVID BELO says, automated systems will allow drivers to push the limits of their vehicles.
Q: MCLAREN’S HERITAGE IS IN RACING—IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE THAT WITHOUT DRIVERS. A: Yeah, the driver is the big part of the show, and in many respects it’s what people go to see races for. On the other hand, it’s also the technical challenge—one of the biggest you could aspire to solve as an engineer. The spectacle is just as much about the fierceness of competition between the drivers as it is about the marvel of what teams are coming out with this year. I think there is a lot of excitement for autonomous driving within Formula One companies for the same reason. Something that has been traditionally such a hard problem—driving—is now within our reach with these interesting and complex algorithms. At the same time, we don’t design without the human in the loop. Q: WHAT OTHER ADVANTAGES ARE
THERE TO DOING THAT? A: Whether it’s Tesla or GM or Porsche or a racing company, you have to take into account that you’re designing this machine for a human to exploit it. I think what makes us and some of the other companies working in this field interesting is we’re starting to use vehicle simulators to understand how the brain is interpreting a lot of the signals the driver needs to interpret in order to react to what’s happening in the car and change the control of the car. That work is just as important as developing the engine to produce three more horsepower. The work interacts to achieve a lap time that’s lower or to get a passenger car from point A to point B with a higher likelihood of no accidents.
● THE TRAFFIC PLANNER
Driverless could mean more road congestion and new patterns for pedestrians, says JOHN DALES of consulting firm Urban Movement.
Q: HOW MIGHT DRIVERLESS CARS CHANGE THE DESIGN OF CITIES? A: One of the obvious i ssues i s, assuming the cars are programmed not to hit what they recognize as a human being, there is a danger that in busy areas cars would never get through at all— they’d constantly be stopping. Congestion problems could actually get worse if pedestrians were able to assert much more priority. Most city authorities realize that what you want is pedestrian priority in the center of cities, which are the most complex busy places. But to ensure that vehicles can travel smoothly, we will have to control pedestrian crossing movements in a way we don’t at the moment. Q: WHAT ARE THE OTHER POTENTIAL UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES? A: Well, if I’m in my driverless vehicle and I can’t find a parking space, I could jump out and just get it to circulate until I’m ready for it. Which would add to congestion. Or I could drive to work in the morning, send the car home, and get it to come back for me in the evening, and then go back in it, so then you’ve got four journeys instead of two. There’s the potential to create more vehicle movements.
● THE CAR DESIGNER
Car design will be a secondary consideration, says CAMILO PARDO, chief designer of the 2005-06 Ford GT.
Q: WILL AUTONOMOUS CARS BE DESIGNED MORE CREATIVELY? A: Once a vehicle is on the street, I think federal laws are going to have a hard time waiving anything. Even i f the autonomous vehicles have safer drivers, you’re going to have ’60s cars on the street for years to come, ’80s cars. They’re not going to j ust disappear. A l ot of other factors are going to impact what these autonomous vehicles look like. Visibility from the inside out is not a priority, especially if people aren’t even facing the windshield; they could be facing each other. Q: STILL, IT’S NICE TO SEE OUT
OF THE CAR. A: But it could be optional. You could toggle it off or on, or you could be more selective. … Also, if the cars are going to be electric, then the front of the car may not need so much air coming in. This big grill that a lot of vehicles use as an identity would be eliminated. … If the vehicle is driving itself and doesn’t need headlamps, all it needs is marker lamps so other people can see it.
A lot of autonomous vehicles will fall i nto the fleet category: a cab company or Uber, who will get rid of drivers. They don’t care what it looks like; they care what it costs. No one’s going to have any passionate attachment to the damn thing. It could be more phone- booth- l i ke, j ust so i t goes. And they’ll have advertisements on the side. I think the appearance is going to go south.