An open letter to Scott Morrison: we need a green new deal. Now

Reposted after the original letter published Jan 11, 2020, on Medium

Mark Preston has travelled through the world of the Australian automotive industry to Formula 1 and on to Formula E and autonomous vehicles, constantly considering the future of his favourite subject — cars. The race team he leads — DS TECHEETAH Formula E Team — are the current title holders in Formula E and his StreetDrone business presented autonomous vehicles at the CES Technology world fair this week in Las Vegas.

Dear Prime Minister,

I’m an Aussie who grew up only dreaming about V8’s and going fast, but on my recent visit home from the UK for Christmas, I was shocked by the extent of global climate change as I drove to Sydney and back for New Years celebration by the harbour. My shock was matched by the surprise that while the country burns, our government backs yet more coal mining and gives no thought to the manifest alternatives our country has at its fingertips.

As we drove along the Hume Highway stopping at my childhood tourist stops like the Big Koala, Big Merino, Ned Kelly and the Dog on the Tuckerbox, we were blown away by the sheer amount of smoke that was hanging in the 40-degree heat that soaked the countryside. A red/pink sun beat down on the dry land below as we tried to take photos to do justice of this apocalypse.

I hadn’t realised until I did a Google searched for “are these fires as big as previous”, did I find an article on the Guardian Australia website answering those exact questions. I didn’t appreciate while working out of the country that Australia was going to open the world’s biggest coal mine while its own countryside was burning. I do accept that expanding economies like India have the right to also grow, however, we could develop technology around energy supply in parallel, using the earnings from those resources.

A green new deal has been proposed recently, but yet time after time people and government focus on short term gains ignoring the longer term.

Why are we not embracing the competitive advantage that our country enjoys with vast amounts of natural resource and thinking about the endless possibilities that this provides for the future generations?

I moved from gas-guzzling F1 to the new Formula electric (Formula E) race series because it offers a pathway to change how we move & travel as a society. Of course, electric vehicles are only zero emissions at the point of use and can rely on electricity grids powered by carbon. Greening the grid is therefore as important a part of the solution as electric mobility.

But there is hope, especially here in Australia as solar energy is something we have in abundance, as well as many brilliant young engineers who could power our national endeavour to take a global leadership position in clean energy. Our ‘over-supply’ of solar energy has the potential to be converted to hydrogen or ammonia to power new transport solutions and we have at our fingertips the potential to move up the supply chain and be a leading supplier of energy without being the world’s coal mine.

My own story convinces me this ambition is possible. I was born in the Ford town of Geelong and quickly fell in love with the automotive industry. I moved to the UK and joined McLaren Formula 1, and in time, set up my own F1 team, but always had a weather eye on a sustainable future and so I supported the spin-out of an electric motor company from Oxford University and in time, I built my own Formula E team. Today Formula E is in its 6th season, enjoys the commitment of ten carmakers and has changed the world both in racing, but is also having a transformative impact on the development of new personal mobility solutions too.

It is not important to revive the automotive industry in Australia. We have advantages in this country and can focus on these strengths; natural resources must be our focus and amongst these agriculture and energy! But we must also look at autonomous driving systems. I am focusing on the potential future of the mobility business which will be dominated by the concepts of connected, autonomous, shared and electric vehicles, and so should you.

History has shown time and time again that long term thinking provides huge gains economically and socially in the future. In his seminal book on the competitiveness of nations, Michael Porter wrote: “A nation’s competitiveness depends on the capacity of its industry to innovate and upgrade” and with the current environmental backdrop, we have two compelling reasons to innovate our way out of a crisis.

This occurs when competition is opened up, with governments opening and supporting innovation in industries that play to the strengths of the country with goals like becoming the world leader in off-highway autonomy, long haul hydrogen vehicles, mining trucks and agriculture and solar power delivering sustainable energy carriers using hydrogen and ammonia concepts.

Australia, wake up to the coming changes in global climate change and embrace the competitive advantages that this fine land has given us and let’s get a grand green new tech deal done!

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:

When Racing and Virtual Reality Collide

Augmented reality has the potential to revolutionise sport, sustainability and transport in megacities. Formula racing is a vibrant, colourful, fast paced sport. Now, something new is set to offer its innovative, immersive motoring experiences to viewers beyond the trackside.

The Oculus Rift is a new virtual reality headset that allows players to step into a game. Or a race. It produces a stereoscopic 3D experience with a huge field of view. The point of this is simple; you don’t see the screen. The technology overcomes resolution and latency problems that have plagued previous virtual reality (VR) headsets, where movement in the game lags behind movement of the head.

“All of us at Oculus Virtual Reality are excited to bring truly immersive VR to people who love video games like we do,” said Palmer Luckey, Founder of Oculus. “Virtual reality has been the long sought after Holy Grail, which most people only ever dreamed of until now. The Oculus Rift is a true game changer that will help make VR the standard for game play in the very near future.”

But I believe that Oculus has potential to deliver more than just immersive gaming and along this avenue my ideas can be how we deal with the lack of engine noise prevalent in current Formula E cars. The phenomenon is something that new F1 engines are struggling with too. VR offers a solution; one that has far reaching implications.

One of the great things with how the season has gone so far is that we have plenty of racing spectacle. Obviously the noise of F1 cars does blow your mind, particularly when you see the race in person, but if you have to rely on the noise to deliver the experience then that’s a problem.

I believe that Formula E can solve this by integrating other experience mechanisms like real time gaming, or VR. Imagine if you could sense enough data from the car and transfer this at the highest rate you can to someone at home and then use that data to truly immerse them in the race. I think that’s the future because ultimately we all want to be more engaged.

The following video shows just what can be done with what we have right now. Although it shows what can be done in American football, it does give you an idea of what can be done in general and apply it to any sport, including formula racing.

I reckon that this is something that can be driven by transferring the experience from the car to the viewer as vividly as possible. If you could feel that experience of driving a Formula E car, possibly through new devices like the Oculus Rift product and the on-car data analysis systems being used in autonomous vehicles, then I think that would really redefine how we experience the sport and make things like sound irrelevant.

And don’t think that car manufacturers are far behind, this is what Jaguar are currently proposing:

Autonomous cars offer tremendous scope for achieving this. They harvest far more data than existing vehicles, and feeding that into the latest VR devices will offer a more absorbing, interactive experience.

My vision hints how Formula E fans across the world could be plugged in to every nuance and twist of a track. Such an experience would have long lasting repercussions in the world of sport, advertising and VR, but could also impact on sustainability now and into the future.

I ran R&D and test teams throughout my F1 career. We were already trying to do data mining back in 1998, but of course the PCs couldn’t handle a lot of the data at that time because they lacked the processing power.

As computing power got bigger we really saw an increase in the level of sensors on the cars. Autonomous vehicles are now sensing an order of magnitude more data in order to feed the artificial intelligence systems that allow them to drive unaided.

Such fast changing technology, where open data and the internet change our world, could solve environmental challenges and offer nifty ways to virtually race. I went off to Silicon Valley five years ago to find out how they were approaching automotive. They were approaching it in a completely different way, with focuses on car-sharing, open-data source journey planners for public and so forth.

My thinking was that if Silicon Valley were going about solving these problems in a particular way, then maybe we were going about it the wrong way. When we started looking at setting up a Formula E team we saw it was relevant for driving innovation of electric powertrains, with applications in electric buses, trains and the traditional road car.

Technology from sport drifts into the mainstream, whether through data led VR or electric road cars. I believe such ideas can lead to true integrated transportation in the megacities of the world. If you put all this together you get a picture of how to solve the whole system.

Transplanting ideas from race track to sustainable city has precedent. When I did my MBA, I learned the effect of ripples through many seemingly disparate markets. There is always cross-pollination of ideas, so long as you’re able to be open minded about similarities.

McLaren’s recent renaming to “McLaren Technology Group” evidences a wider shift among racing companies into sustainability science. This reflects their move into more enterprise focused solutions.

Tomorrow’s world is full of possibilities. Global users might share in a Formula E race via VR, before virtually learning how cars can modify our urban sustainability impacts. Then, they might drive electric vehicles to purchase game consoles, which transmit household energy data back to the web.

Such linked up science need not be an impossible imagining. Indeed, it is limited only by how widely we conceive the future.

Reprinted from Mark Preston’s column Racing to the Future in Motorsport Monday

MMLogo_Red and Black - square small

Formula E – Car Launch

Momentum is everything in motor racing and the unveiling of the new Formula E race car at the Frankfurt Motor Show shows this exciting series is beginning to gather some serious pace.

By all reports electric vehicles (EVs) have been all the rage at the event further indicating the motor industry’s preference to develop eco-friendly cars. You only have to look as far as BMW’s impressive i8 to see what impact EVs are going to have on the future.

From my standpoint, Formula E in particular will shape all kinds of major technological advances in the next five to 10 years – most of which will affect in someway how we as humans approach mobility in true megacities like London and Tokyo.

It’s only around the corner when every black cab you’ll see in London will be running electric or hybrid and the city (expect for screeching brakes on just about every bus, car and truck) will be quieter and almost pollution free.

While the first year of the Formula E series will see all 10 teams compete using the same Spark-Renault SRT-01E, I think we’ll really start to see benefits of the series once teams start developing their own cars.

Having a top driver in the first year might snatch the title, but what will count going forward is how teams devise solutions to out-develop each other in specific areas such as battery control, cooling efficiency, power optimization/management and my personal favorite (once 4WD is introduced) 4WD torque vectoring.

Critically, this can give teams the chance to monetize what they’ve created and translate that outside the garage. As we’ve seen at McLaren in recent years their focus has grown strongly on increasing the output of their premium sports cars which draw on the team’s F1 expertise and technology.

With the right minds focused on the drawing board there is a plethora of cutting-edge technologies and systems that can be developed in Formula E and translated to the everyday person living in a modern day metropolis.

Reducing anxiety range in electric road cars will most probably be one of the first problems solved through Formula E. Battery development will progress at a lightning speed and it won’t be long until this makes its way to the consumer.

Tesla’s 90-second battery change is also an interesting step forward. If Formula E can harness and translate this then the proposed ‘car change pitstop’ could quickly be a thing of the past as drivers pit over a battery plate and have a fresh cell loaded within 20 seconds – effectively replacing the petrol pump.

What is exciting is that this is all technology that can realistically filter down to the average eDriver – someone who relies on mobility and wants it to be in an eco-friendly and sustainable form.

Formula E will start us thinking about ‘mobility as a service’ which can help drive more efficient and sustainable transport. It will enable us to build new business models to ease the cost of EVs  for the average person and this is all done through racing the best part of motorsport!

The series will certainly be a spectacle and crucially it gets right to the heartbeat of cities like Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aries, Los Angles and Rome with street circuits likely to attract thousands of onlookers.

“Designing a new BEV: all I can predict is that I will be wrong!”

I was talking to a Programme Manager for a future battery electric vehicle (BEV) and the only thing she knew for certain was whatever she designed would be wrong!  It’s difficult predicting the future and it seems that predicting the right way to go in the electrification of vehicles is an art not a science.

“If it is so difficult to predict the future, why are you interested in EV’s and Formula E when you have spent most of your career designing and racing Formula One cars?”, I was asked by one of my colleagues.

There are a couple of reasons.

If I take the advice of my programme manager friend and focus on what I believe is the most interesting future scenario then I have a very intresting picture in my mind.  Vision, or strategic intent is how it was described to us on our MBA; the kind of vision that Honda displayed when they enterred the US market with a step through motorcycle on its way to becoming a global automotive leader, is the only way to go!

Lets see if I can articulate my vision for the future of vehicles: or perhaps I should describe it as future mobility.

Start with the powertrain.

If you apply F1 thinking, then the most efficient controllable, nimble vehicle would be 4WD for traction and torque vectoring, powered by very small light responsive hub mounted electric motors (reverse torque and regenerating capability) with a high density power source, an efficient control system and a power unit that could convert from its storage medium to electricity fast and efficiently.

I saw the benefits of torque vectoring in relation to my work in vehicle dynamics: traction control, launch control and active differentials when I was Head of R&D at Arrows Grand Prix and later as Technical Director at Super Aguri F1 Team.  The amount of control that can be afforded the driver using torque vectoring to its ultimate capability is astounding and I hope that the Formula E vehicles that we can develop over the coming years of competition will deliver on this promise: I certainly look forward to driving one!

What should the energy storage system of the future be?  The long term solution seems to be hydrogen because of its energy density capability plus the fact that the hydrogen can be created using alternative forms of energy and burned cleanly at the place of use.  Storage and distribution are holding this back, but I am sure it will come at some point in the future.

But in the meantime, one idea is to use fossil fuels in the most efficient way possible.  A combination of battery storage and ICE’s as a range extender seems to me to be the best short term solution.  In fact for the highest efficiency system, why not take a small super efficient high revving engine, like a Honda generator, that can be packaged in a very small space?

EU10I honda generator
Imagine a high efficiency, high volume manufactured power unit based on a standard generator.

So in summary, the powertrain is made up of a combination of batteries, high efficiency ICE running on fossil fuels in the short term and hydrogen created with alternative energies in the longer term, powering 4WD in wheel electric motors with torque vectoring and regeneration capabilities: hopefully the future of Formula E!

The next post will look ideas around connected vehicles and the total mobility package of the future and how this ties together to create future mobility solutions.

Formtech E1 – Lightweight Concepts for Future EV’s – Future Car Body 2012 Bad Neuheim

I presented Formtech’s lightweight concept at the recent Future Car Body last week in Bad Neuheim in Germany.  An interesting event looking at lightweight concepts of the future.

Formtech E1 – Lightweight Concepts for Future EV’s at the Automotive Circle Future Car Body event in Bad Neuheim Germany n 2012

The presentation looked at concepts that were developed during the creation of the Formtech E1 EV research concept vehicle.  We approached the development from the ground up looking at the issues surrounding design and manufacturing of composite structures drawing on previous work.  Our previous work into the substitution of composites in Formula One was used to drive our thinking in substitution in the automotive industry.

Formtech launches the E1 research concept EV

Formtech created a vision of EV when they launched the E1 atFrankfurt’s IAA Motorshow in September.  The research study provides the base for a number of concepts in lightweighting technology using composites, high-end materials and machining.

Formtech’s EV started out as a concept for the companies CEO Franz Hilmer, “I wanted to develop a car that would provide me with a second vehicle that I can use to commute to work, but be stylish and provide the basis to exploit the technologies that Formtech is developing in lightweight materials, high-end precision manufacturing and other technologies.”

Designers: Satoshi Nakamura, Tomas Beres, and Rafael Gross, were given the brief to develop a number of concepts, “The chosen concept of the E1 came from the idea that a secondary car; where the customer already owns a vehicle, and considering an eco-friendly alternative especially designed for short commute, with the capacity to carry 4 passengers, should be simple and take full advantage of the electric drive train. The limited top speed and range will create a lighter, more efficient vehicle, perfect for a second car. The design features a short overhang at both ends to create maximum capacity within the given wheelbase dimension. The side surface wraps around to the front and rear end, creating a sense of security and strength to the overall form. “, said Nakamura.

“The future of EV’s will be based around a number of game changing technologies”, says Mark Preston, ex-F1 designer, “I forsee a change in the way EV’s are perceived with lightweight carbon composites and vehicle dynamics technology such as torque vectoring driving exciting new areas of customer interest.  We created the research study in order to create a platform from which Formtech can develop these new technologies and provide solutions for all areas of EV development”.

The Formtech E1 forms the basis of further development studies by Formtech into the exciting new area of EV’s.  Further studies will be released from Formtech that follow up on the beginnings created with the E1.  “Formtech is committed to working towards the future and welcomes discussions with interested companies and investors from the green sector“, says Hilmer.

Megacities and EV’s

I recently looked into what it would take to own a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt/Ampera in a city.  I live in the centre of Oxford in the UK and have a membership of a car sharing organisation (Commonwheels) which has a number of cars just nearby.  I have done a lot of research into EV’s as part of my involvement in Oxford YASA Motors spinout of Oxford University and an ongoing involvement in composites through Formtech which are quite relevant to weight saving in this sector.

Many of the market predictions on EV uptake reference Megacities and the likihood of a change in usage habits driving growth in the market.  However, it is quite difficult for me to own an EV.

I test drove the Nissan Leaf and much to my surprise, it was, just like a normal car!  I think I was mostly surprised that I should be surprised.  It had plenty of power off the line, had good build quality, did everything a normal car does and had plenty of extra electronic gadgets that go with EV such as SatNav with predicted ranges and other handy tools for managing range aniexty.

The big problem is charging an EV at home when you have a terrace house in the inner city!  There are currently no schemes for on street charging in Megacities.  Plenty of solutions for people with big houses, garages and off street parking, but not what I would call the areas that may drive EV growth.

As always, new innovations come from solving problems and this looks like the next peice of the puzzle that needs to be solved before I could look at EV in the centre of a city.

Innovation in F1 – Part 1

There is a lot of talk in the business press regarding innovation and how critical it is to western countries, keeping our lead in the world economy. Growth is driven by innovation and I thought it would be worth having a look at innovation in the context of motorsports.  Below is a classic graphic showing the three phases of innovation: product, process and strategic.

Rate of innovation in various stages
Rate of Innovation

Where is F1 currently?

I hypothesize that F1 is in the final stages of the process innovation: hopefully to be followed by the strategic innovation stage, most likely driven by the economic crisis and the withdrawal of many of the automotive giants that have driven the process innovation that has characterised the last 10-15 years.

So which era of Formula One characterised the product innovation stage?

First it is worth noting what drivers performance in motor racing.  First order drivers of performance come from the areas that most closely effect the basic laws of physics such as Newtons laws of motion.

Initially innovation focussed on engines.  Enzo Ferrari was one of the people who focussed most on engines and throughout his leadership of the company this is where the focus remained.  It wasn’t until the 60’s when vehicle dynamics started to become seen as important with the move towards rearward engines.  Without performing a large analysis on the subject his is most likely because of the changing engine efficiencies: smaller more efficient engines meant that they were no longer the dominant part of the vehicle from a weight and size point of view.

The fact that aerodynamics and tyres required much more complex methods of understanding meant that they came a lot later in the innovation cycle.  Aerodynamics was the next area that began to show promise with the introduction of wings.  This brought with it a huge boom in innovation.  Wings sprouted allover the place.  To take this to extremes Gordan Murray even introduced a fan car that was created downforce directly proportional to the fan!  Most innovations were banned or controlled but innovation keep moving on.

Perhaps the next big area of innovation was active suspension.  This innovation came when engineers realized that the car was also just one big wing with floors running so close to the ground they had become venturis.  This innovation continued for a while but again it had to be controlled as the performance coming from these innovations was spiraling out of control!

Motor Manufacturers

Then came the motor manufacturers.  I mean the big ones, not Ferrari, which has always been what I would call a stand alone sports car manufacturer, even though is owned by Fiat.  I think Fiat simply provides stability.

The motor manufacturers I am talking about are the bigs ones: Honda, Toyota, Renault, Mercedes Benz, Ford and BMW.  Only one remains when this blog was posted: Mercedes Benz.  Their entry into the sport really started at the end of the 90’s when Ford began to take over Stewart Grand Prix.  Renault followed in 2000, Honda took over Tyrell, Mercedes started investing in McLaren, Toyota started from scratch and BMW began to try to work closer with Williams.

The car companies did a few things, one of which was to bring more rigor to F1: just look at how reliability increased over the last 10 years.  I recently presented to a conference on carbon composites and showed a simple explanation of what happened when rigor is introduced into a sport.

Graphics showing the technology readiness levels used by NASA
Technology Readiness Levels and Motorsports

I found that NASA’s Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) were the best way of describing the changes that had happened in Formula One.  The technology readiness levels are supposed to be used to describe new innovations and their stage in development: everything from Blue Sky research to developments that are fully ready for integration into mainstream commercial activities.

The slide was used to compare motor racing to aerospace and most of the explanation came down to the differences in risk taking.  This got me thinking about what effect the motor manufacturers  (OEM’s) have had on the sport and I decided that part of it was the rigor that aerospace and OEM’s need for selling products.  This got me thinking about process innovation as this rigor is mostly about better quality, more certainty and less risk.  So the TRL graphic highlighted this fact, especially when compared to the old days of Lotus and Brabham!  In F1 history, many of the engineers would come up with concepts at the track and they would be on the car in a matter of hours!  This was real Blue Sky territory, albeit at the expense of rigor, which I believe then brought reliability.

Part 2: Process innovation.  Coming soon…

Oxford YASA Motors gets funding

After a number of months of planning and fund raising, Oxford YASA Motors has received funding to spin-out of the Univeristy of Oxford.  The initial project started with the Morgan LifeCar and has resulted in a new high torque density motor, very much suited to the new requirements of electric/hybrid vehicles.  The author was part of the team that planned and pitched the business to a number of investors and finally secured the funding recently.

There will doubtless be many new ideas that are generated off the back of this high torque density motors: perhaps with motorsports leading the way.