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How music and passion fuels your driving

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Listening to music, and a passion for driving, are two factors that make South Africans better drivers, according to an international emotion-tracking study conducted by Shell and Goldsmiths, a college at the University of London.

Shell South Africa and Goldsmiths announced the results of its new ground-breaking emotion tracking research at the recent Shell V-Power SEFAC Experience Day at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit north of Johannesburg.

Observing diverse driving conditions from three continents across the globe, the study used a combination of the latest wearable emotion tracking devices with chatbot technology, GPS, as well as weather and traffic information and personality questionnaires, to give the most complete picture of what drivers are experiencing on the road. Nearly 3 000 drivers are participating in the study across 10 countries.

In South Africa, the findings revealed that despite intense traffic conditions across the country, it’s not all doom and gloom. Journey times of those studied in South Africa proved to be shorter than motorists in Europe and Asia, averaging 27 minutes per trip verses up to 40 minutes in the Netherlands and 60 minutes in the Philippines. South African motorists in the study saved more time on the road than motorists in Asia at an average speed of 35km/h, compared with just 14km/h in Malaysia and 18km/h in the Philippines.

The study uncovered the tactics that South African motorists are using to remain focused and calm on the roads, and an overall high-performance mindset amongst the nation’s drivers:

Move to the music: drivers who listen to music achieved the strongest driver performance scores. Similarly, drivers who made a conscious effort to relax while driving listening music and other mindfulness techniques performed best behind the wheel.

Always look on the bright side: drivers that displayed a high-performance, optimistic mindset and are full of life achieved the highest driving performance and smoothest journeys.

Family comes first: who we drive with determines how we drive. Drivers who reported to have children, family members or friends in the car used less harsh driving techniques and achieved higher smooth trip scores.

Rural vs urban drivers: motorists in rural areas had the highest performance and smooth scores compared with city slickers.

Passion pays off: drivers who reported a passion or enjoyment of driving paid more attention to their performance on the road, and achieved higher performance scores.

Dr Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “The nature of this study allows us to observe not only the impact of external factors such as weather and traffic on drivers whilst on the road, but also the internal factors that we as drivers have more control over.”

“Looking at drivers in South Africa, we can see that the highest performing drivers displayed an overall sense of positivity and optimism, making a conscious effort to relax and stay chilled behind the wheel by listening to music.”

Brand, Fuels and Customer Experience Manager at Shell SA Frans Maluleke said: “This experiment was an interesting and valuable insight for us about our valuable customers and the South African market in general.”

“We understand that drivers face many challenges on their daily commutes. Our aim is to utilise the findings of the research to enhance the customer experience and design offers that cater for their needs”, said Maluleke, “We are confident this is a step forward to our journey of becoming South Africa’s favourite forecourt retailer and to making customers life’s journeys better.”

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Project Bloodhound saved

The British project to break the world landspeed record at a site in the Northern Cape has been saved by a new backer, after it went into bankruptcy proceedings in October.

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Two weeks ago,  and two months after entering voluntary administration, the Bloodhound Programme Limited announced it was shutting down. This week it announced that its assets, including the Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC), had been acquired by an enthusiastic – and wealthy – supporter.

“We are absolutely delighted that on Monday 17th December, the business and assets were bought, allowing the Project to continue,” the team said in a statement.

“The acquisition was made by Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Ian Warhurst. Ian is a mechanical engineer by training, with a strong background in managing a highly successful business in the automotive engineering sector, so he will bring a lot of expertise to the Project.”

Warhurst and his family, says the team, have been enthusiastic Bloodhound supporters for many years, and this inspired his new involvement with the Project.

“I am delighted to have been able to safeguard the business and assets preventing the project breakup,” he said. “I know how important it is to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and maths, and I want to ensure Bloodhound can continue doing that into the future.

“It’s clear how much this unique British project means to people and I have been overwhelmed by the messages of thanks I have received in the last few days.”

The record attempt was due to be made late next year at Hakskeen Pan in the Kalahari Desert, where retired pilot Andy Green planned to beat the 1228km/h land-speed record he set in the United States in 1997. The target is for Bloodhound to become the first car to reach 1000mph (1610km/h). A track 19km long and 500 metres wide has been prepared, with members of the local community hired to clear 16 000 tons of rock and stone to smooth the surface.

The team said in its announcement this week: “Although it has been a frustrating few months for Bloodhound, we are thrilled that Ian has saved Bloodhound SSC from closure for the country and the many supporters around the world who have been inspired by the Project. We now have a lot of planning to do for 2019 and beyond.”

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Motor Racing meets Machine Learning

The futuristic car technology of tomorrow is being built today in both racing cars and
toys, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The car of tomorrow, most of us imagine, is being built by the great automobile manufacturers of the world. More and more, however, we are seeing information technology companies joining the race to power the autonomous vehicle future.

Last year, chip-maker Intel paid $15.3-billion to acquire Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology. Google’s autonomous taxi division, Waymo, has been valued at $45-billion.

Now there’s a new name to add to the roster of technology giants driving the future.

DeepRacer on the inside

Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing service and a subsidiary of Amazon.com,  last month unveiled a scale model autonomous racing car for developers to build new artificial intelligence applications. Almost in the same breath, at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, it showcased the work being done with machine learning in Formula 1 racing.

AWS DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale fully autonomous race car, designed to incorporate the features and behaviour of a full-sized vehicle. It boasts all-wheel drive, monster truck tires, an HD video camera, and on-board computing power. In short, everything a kid would want of a self-driving toy car.

But then, it also adds everything a developer would need to make the car autonomous in ways that, for now, can only be imagined. It uses a new form of machine learning (ML), the technology that allows computer systems to improve their functions progressively as they receive feedback from their activities. ML is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), and will be core to autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

AWS has taken ML a step further, with an approach called reinforcement learning. This allows for quicker development of ML models and applications, and DeepRacer is designed to allow developers to experiment with and hone their skill in this area. It is built on top of another AWS platform, called Amazon SageMaker, which enables developers and data scientists to build, train, and deploy machine learning quickly and easily.

Along with DeepRacer, AWS also announced the DeepRacer League, the world’s first global autonomous racing league, open to anyone who orders the scale model from AWS.

DeepRacer on the outside

As if to prove that DeepRacer is not just a quirky entry into the world of motor racing, AWS also showcased the work it is doing with the Formula One Group. Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s managing director of Motor Sports, joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy during the keynote address at the re:Invent conference, to demonstrate how motor racing meets machine learning.

“More than a million data points a second are transmitted between car and team during a Formula 1 race,” he said. “From this data, we can make predictions about what we expect to happen in a wheel-to-wheel situation, overtaking advantage, and pit stop advantage. ML can help us apply a proper analysis of a situation, and also bring it to fans.

“Formula 1 is a complete team contest. If you look at a video of tyre-changing in a pit stop – it takes 1.6 seconds to change four wheels and tyres – blink and you will miss it. Imagine the training that goes into it? It’s also a contest of innovative minds.”

AWS CEO Andy Jassy unveils DeepRacer

Formula 1 racing has more than 500 million global fans and generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2017. As a result, there are massive demands on performance, analysis and information. 

During a race, up to 120 sensors on each car generate up to 3GB of data and 1 500 data points – every second. It is impossible to analyse this data on the fly without an ML platform like Amazon SageMaker. It has a further advantage: the data scientists are able to incorporate 65 years of historical race data to compare performance, make predictions, and provide insights into the teams’ and drivers’ split-second decisions and strategies.

This means Formula 1 can pinpoint how a driver is performing and whether or not drivers have pushed themselves over the limit.

“By leveraging Amazon SageMaker and AWS’s machine-learning services, we are able to deliver these powerful insights and predictions to fans in real time,” said Pete Samara, director of innovation and digital technology at Formula 1.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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