Autonomy: The future of motorsport and personal travel

CoMotion-Rooftop 99Autonomous technology has the power to redefine driving, both on the race track and in our daily lives, states Mark Preston, Team Principal of the Team Aguri Formula E squad

Autonomous vehicles have been a regular feature in the headlines over the past year as the technology has been refined and global brands such as Google, Apple and Tesla have pioneered their own approaches to commercialising its wide array of applications.

While the technology is in its infancy, the rate of development and investment in this burgeoning market is impressive. The UK government has pledged £100m to the development of the industry, which is expected to create 320,000 jobs by 2030, while both Tesla and Google plan to have their first models on the market by 2020.

However teething problems remain, as highlighted by 14 accidents that Google’s car has suffered in the last six years, in which time is has covered some 1.9 million miles of testing.

Mark Preston, Team Principal of Team Aguri – a race squad competing in the all-electric Formula E series – believes that autonomous vehicles have a promising future, and that motorsport may hold the key to unlocking its full potential.

Showcasing ideas to the world

“Motorsport is a great testing ground. I see Formula E as a prototyping competition for autonomous vehicles and other technologies,” comments Preston.

“It’s a great place to experiment and showcase new ideas, and bring them to the attention of the world in a controlled environment where people can gain confidence that they are safe.”

Preston’s comments aren’t without president. In recent years motorsport has been responsible for the development of kinetic energy recovery and smaller, more efficient engines, which are becoming commonplace in today’s road cars. Other technologies that have a motorsport lineage include four wheel drive, traction control and even rear view mirrors are now considered standard.

While some are hesitant about taking the purity away from motorsport, Preston is quick to assert that applications of autonomous technology need not impact on racing: “We don’t want to take away the skill of the driver, but there are a number of times in a race when technology does not dominate the performance or outcome of the race, such as pit stops and following the safety car.”

“’Follow me’ technology has already been developed by BMW and Jaguar and we could easily have race cars following the i8 safety car in Formula E. The Toyota Hybrid ran completely on electric power while in the pitlane during this year’s Le Mans 24 hours, which could have been implemented autonomously as soon as the driver crossed the pitlane entry line. This could spell the end to unsafe releases, as the pitlane would follow a set of rules.”

Preston believes such an approach will be crucial to increasing public acceptance of such innovations, while promoting new collaborations between academia, race teams and car manufacturers.

Sustainability through autonomy

Team Aguri has formed a partnership with the MobOx Foundation – a ‘living laboratory’ in Oxford that runs studies into the innovative technologies that will shape the future of our cities – to better to understand where such inventions first enter daily life.

“Studies so far, supported by Innovate UK, have shown that dynamic routing and dynamic timetabling in public transport could be enabled by autonomous technology, allowing flexible operations 24 hours per day,” states Preston.

“We all hate poor, unreliable public transport, but with autonomous buses it would be possible to increase the frequency of buses to at least one every five minutes and enable routes that are could alleviate the need for personal transport,” he continues. “Furthermore, autonomous cars won’t just sit in car parks anymore; they will continue on, doing other jobs during the day, instead of waiting on the side of the road, creating better traffic flow.”

While common use of autonomous technology in both public and personal transport remains a few years away, it offers a simple solution to creating greener, safer cities. The first step to its widespread acceptance may very well lie with winning the hearts and minds of the public through its performance on the racetrack.

For more information on Team Aguri, please visit:

Published by markandrewpreston

Demonstrating his exceptional skills in engineering and design, alongside evident drive and business acumen, Mark Preston went from a degree in Mechanical Engineering and working for GM and Spectrum Racing Cars, to obtaining key roles in both the Arrows and McLaren F1 teams, and then creating the Super Aguri F1 team in just 100 days. Now the Team Principal of Team Aguri Formula E racing in the second season of the FIA Formula E championship. Completing his MBA at Oxford in 2006, Mark has also worked with Oxford University researchers who’ve benefited from his expertise in composites and high-tech design: he has consulted in commercializing spin outs from their research in marine energy and electric motor technology. Such developments of his management skills in and beyond the realm of motorsports shows Mark to be an exceptional team player and innovator, ideally placed to manage and motivate workforces. Together, his skills and experience combine to ensure that Mark delivers first-class business planning and start-up advice covering technical due diligence, operations management, and more – offering as he does a unique balance of commercial and technical understanding, achievement and ability.

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