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City versus Car: How everything will change

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Ever-increasing urbanisation and the demand for development of cities is the catalyst needed to bridge both the greatest challenges and most creative solutions for a future of automotive sector, writes TREVOR HILL, head of Audi South Africa.

Ever-increasing urbanisation and the subsequent demand for development of cities is the catalyst needed to bridge both the greatest challenges and most creative solutions for a future of automotive sector. What we face now is undoubtedly the next automotive revolution.

And, it makes sense.

The city is where human life is expected to take the most significant quantum leap. Associated with this, is demand for technology that keeps (or even exceeds) the pace of how society will itself expect to be mobile.

According to McKinsey, Africa is urbanising faster than any other region – where cities are projected to gain an estimated 24-million more people each year until 2045. If the McKinsey numbers stack up, then it follows course that as an automotive sector our own investment in technology and innovation must adapt at a faster pace to meet what will be changing mobility demands.

The most logical question is, how?

For Audi, this starts with the integration of the car and its environment, especially as physical car ownership is expected to decline over time. Critical to this is an appreciation that ownership is not necessarily an indication of slower mobility demand, but rather points to the need to drive progress around innovation in the mobility space. Our work through the Audi Urban Future Initiative is just such a case in point. The initiative is an internal, interdepartmental think tank dedicated to issues of urban mobility.

The city and the car have been interacting for generations, but this latest phase of their evolution is different. Instead of urban planners designing cities around the automobile, engineers and developers are now designing cars around the functionality of the city.

With this in mind, Audi has pushed ahead with cooperation agreements with Boston and Mexico City, where we are working in partnership with local government to explore how Audi innovation technologies can be applied in an urban environment to trigger maximum benefit for both residents and businesses.

In the Boston metropolitan area, Audi is testing the advantages of its new technologies for the city in two different pilot projects. In the transformation of the city centre, car-to-X technologies will improve the traffic flow; while at the same time – automated parking will contribute to creating more space for other modes of traffic. In addition to this, Audi is working with the real-estate developers to combine the benefits of automated parking and smart fleet management.

The third Audi Urban Partnership is a joint project in Santa Fe, one of the leading business districts in Mexico City. Here, Audi is working with the association of the business district to develop ways to end permanent traffic congestion.All three projects profile the successes of our investment in technology and our ability to adapt to changing demands that will respond to the next automotive revolution.

This paradigm shift towards mobility that is compatible with the city will eventually make for an intelligent, sustainable and liveable city with zero emissions and networked traffic that flows easily. And at the heart of this new concept will be the individual, accessing mobility in the way most convenient to him or her, in harmony with the city, the environment and other road users.

As automakers, we are privileged to be at the apex of this pivotal innovation moment, where digitalization, sustainability and urbanization come together for our next great leap forward. While we are synonymous with making cars, we are also reinventing the way cars are used. In the future, many will choose not to own their cars, but to access them on demand.

Part of the newly defined future will be machine learning, where a computer, in our case the car operating system, learns from specific situations, and can later handle unforeseen events. The more miles it clocks, the better it becomes. At Audi, we have already developed a model car that uses machine learning for intelligent parking strategies. In the next step, we will transfer that to a real car.

Indeed, the car of the near future will be constantly collecting masses of data to facilitate automated driving in a type of traffic swarm intelligence. One car on its own knows little; many cars know a lot. Each individual car can help enhance the overall performance of all cars by providing data via the cloud.

Carmakers are finding solutions for many of cities’ greatest challenges. Electric mobility will – for example – reduce emissions. Self-parking cars will cut the space needed for parking, freeing up room to improve the quality of urban life. Intelligent car interfaces with traffic light information will optimise traffic flow.

With the legacy mobility model, having caused many of the environmental issues we currently face, a reinvention according to principles of artificial intelligence and connectivity could make city living more efficient and more enjoyable while also helping to put life on earth on a more sustainable path

The trigger to a smart future mobility system is one that benefits all stakeholders. For Audi, urbanisation is a vital source for future business solutions. That’s why it has become a central part in our corporate strategy. It is something that we are gearing our business and our cars towards and something we are excited to share with our customers in the places they live, work and shop.

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Body-tracking tech moves to assembly line

Technology typically used by the world’s top sport stars to raise their game, or ensure their signature skills are accurately replicated in leading video games, is now being used on an auto assembly line.

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Employees at Ford’s Valencia Engine Assembly Plant, in Spain, are using a special suit equipped with advanced body tracking technology. The pilot system, created by Ford and the Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia, has involved 70 employees in 21 work areas. 

Player motion technology usually records how athletes sprint or turn, enabling sport coaches or game developers to unlock the potential of sport stars in the real world or on screen. Ford is using it to design less physically stressful workstations for enhanced manufacturing quality.

“It’s been proven on the sports field that with motion tracking technology, tiny adjustments to the way you move can have a huge benefit,” said Javier Gisbert, production area manager, Ford Valencia Engine Assembly Plant. “For our employees, changes made to work areas using similar technology can ultimately ensure that, even on a long day, they are able to work comfortably.”

Engineers took inspiration from a suit they saw at a trade fair that demonstrated how robots could replicate human movement and then applied it to their workplace, where production of the  new Ford Transit Connect and 2.0-litre EcoBoost Duratec engines began this month.

The skin-tight suit consists of 15 tiny movement tracking light sensors connected to a wireless detection unit. The system tracks how the person moves at work, highlighting head, neck, shoulder and limb movements. Movement is recorded by four specialised motion-tracking cameras – similar to those usually paired with computer game consoles – placed near the worker and captured as a 3D skeletal character animation of the user.

Specially trained ergonomists then use the data to help employees align their posture correctly. Measurements captured by the system, such as an employee’s height or arm length, are used to design workstations, so they better fit employees. 

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Electric cars begin to bridge the luxury gap

A new era has dawned as electric mobility bridges the gap between luxury and necessity, writes TREVOR HILL – head of Audi South Africa.

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Mobility is essential to today’s world. We travel to get to work, to go shopping, and to meet friends and family – in short, effective transport impacts on all aspects of our modern lives. Access to mobility is critical to economic growth and progress, bringing more opportunities and better productivity. At the same time however, growing environmental concerns and a looming shortage of fossil fuels have created tension between our ever-growing demand for mobility and the health of our planet.

Growing populations, increasing urbanization and economic and social development mean that there are more cars on our roads each day. The knock-on effects of this are greater levels of congestion and longer times spent commuting, which means more stress and higher levels of aggression on the road. Skyrocketing levels of air pollution – to which transportation is one of the leading contributors – has negative effects on both health and climate change, both of which are key issues in global policy agendas.

So, the writing has been on the wall for some time. The gold standard in automotive technological progress has thus been to achieve a radical reduction of engine emissions and the development of electric cars has been at the forefront of this charge. We have now entered the beginning of a new era, as more and more of these vehicles take to the roads. Electric cars are now at the cusp of the mass market, with a steady stream of new models set to reach the consumer in future. Last week, we launched the Audi e-tron, our first all-electric-drive SUV, at a world premiere in San Francisco – one huge leap forward in pursuit of our goal. Audi will also bring more than 20 electrified models to the market by 2025, from the compact class to the full-size category. Around a dozen models will be all-electric, while the remainder will be plug-in hybrids for emission-free driving on shorter journeys.

Powering this development is ongoing improvement in battery technology, with increasing energy density and lengthened driving ranges possible between charges. Consumers have noted that they feel confident using electric cars for day-to-day use once battery technology can sustain a driving range of 300 or more kilometres, which is now possible. The Audi e-tron has a range of 400 kilometers, making it ideal for long distance driving. Drivers who charge the e-tron overnight can set off in the morning in full confidence that they won’t need to stop at a charging station as they go about their day.

What this technological progress also means however, is that the levels of power and performance achieved by an electric car draw ever closer to those of traditional engines. For anyone who loves high strung, powerful engines and the rush of adrenaline that comes from flooring the throttle on an empty stretch of road, this is no small thing.  At Audi, we are lucky to be surrounded by some of the most exceptional engines ever produced, so few people understand the thrill of an extraordinary driving experience better than we do. So, the holy grail is to achieve this same performance with vastly improved economy.

The Audi e-tron’s electric drive has two asynchronous motors, one at the front, one at the rear, with a total output of 300 kW of power. This allows the Audi e-tron to accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in just 5.7 seconds.

The next step will be the development of electric cars suitable for those who regularly drive long distances, entailing further advances in battery technology, and the development of a network of charging stations across the country. The battery for the Audi e-tron is designed to last the entire life cycle of the vehicle. When charged at a high-power charging station at up to 150 kW, the Audi e-tron can be restored to 80% in less than half an hour. At 22 kW, the Audi e-tron can charge its battery to 100% in around four and a half hours.

For city dwellers, however, the age of electric mobility has well and truly arrived. Rapid advances in technology continue to drive progress; the rise of electric cars is only one of many developments set to transform transportation as we know it, heralding a cleaner, more efficient future.

 

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