Communication and the Use of LLMs in Motorsports

In 1999, during my tenure as Head of R&D at Arrows Grand Prix, I embarked on a journey to enhance the performance of our F1 cars. At that juncture, genetic algorithms emerged as the preferred tool, particularly in fast trading software. Despite operating on Silicon Graphics visual workstations, which were relatively powerful but nothing like what is available nowadays, we could conduct many runs. We employed these algorithms primarily to analyse tyre models and seek other optimisation strategies. Interestingly, the learning often highlighted inaccuracies within our models. For instance, a particular simulation model would consistently suggest a 100% front weight on the car, indicating an error in the model that may have caught out a few teams over the years with unrealistic targets! These were the early days of using computers with limited power and brute force algorithms.

When I moved to McLaren F1, I was astounded by the wealth of “embedded knowledge” the team possessed, a term used in MBA circles to mean that they’ve meticulously documented everything. To make this vast reservoir of knowledge more easily accessible to new engineers, I considered implementing an “on-prem” Google server. The idea was that little nuggets of wisdom only known to a few people could be shared across the company. The idea is that knowledge, when harnessed collaboratively, can be greater than the sum of its parts. Now, imagine if we could enhance the learning model of ChatGPT by incorporating this internal knowledge derived from over three decades of racing expertise into speeding up the dissemination of knowledge and ideas (the first version of this article was prepared in May 2023, MS Co-Pilot and Google’s Bard are solving precisely this at the moment).

Fast forward to the Super Aguri F1 team. Our radios were not at the level of the other teams, so we decided to experiment with increasing the quality of our communication with the drivers. We agreed that one solution was to move the pitwall engineering (prat perch) to the air-conditioned, quiet, controlled environment of the engineering truck behind the pits. This increased the communication quality and was a precursor to thinking more about the now standard “Mission Controls” back at base in F1 and FE, where engineers can work in a quieter controlled environment. This decoupling of tasks is a powerful concept. Obviously, “you can’t hammer a nail over the internet,” so specific tasks need to stay on the ground, at the track, but many jobs can be done remotely.

The result was the now famous run in between Anthony Davidson and a beaver while running 3rd at the Montreal Grand Prix in 2007. With engineers positioned in the truck behind the pit garages and Anthony having to dive into the pits at the last minute, the mechanics were left surprised as the TV talked about him coming into the pitlane! An example of the right intent, but not the right outcome!

Another solution to our communication problem was to think about texting. I saw the Technical Director of F1, Charlie Whiting, in Monaco on the morning of the F1 race to discuss solutions. Car communications are restricted to radio, but I argued that if our driver had had a hearing impairment, that would not be entirely fair, hence the need for text-based communications. Charlie agreed to look at a proposal. We never did implement the concept due to the requirement to redesign the steering wheel, but I have continued to think about communications and ideas that might solve problems.

Since I started looking at genetic algorithms in 1999, rapid advances in computing power, including GPUs and TPUs, enabled machine learning to evolve significantly. This computational growth allowed for training complex models on large datasets, leading to powerful AI like GPT-3 and GPT-4 and ushering in a new era of AI innovation. The astonishing rise of ChatGPT and large language models or LLMs is the latest thing and is changing by the week, if not the day at the moment (this article will be out of date by the time you read it potentially, first written May 2023!).

Could the LLM be trained on a smaller data set and more clearly communicate with a driver? My current understanding of these LLMs is that the better “prompt engineering” fed into the model, with the best context, the better the answers and the more concise the results. If you notice that when you type in a question to Bing now, it first makes the prompt more straightforward, then feeds it to the model. The more you narrow down the context, the better the answer. Here’s a simple example:
Me on the prompt line: “Please write a concise radio communication for an F1 driver with bad radio quality to ask them to come into the pit lane for new tyres.”

ChatGPT4: “Box, box, box. Tyres ready. Confirm, over.”

A silly, small example, but it shows how it can be used. I have seen many times in the heat of battle where we engineers make mistakes. The more scenario planning and fast decision-making possible, the fewer mistakes.
For example, ChatGPT could prepare radio communications and pop-up ideas for a race engineer based on preconceived knowledge from listening to “Mission Control” conversations or info coming from the TV!

These are only simple examples, and every day, I am sure you will all think of more. And by the time this article comes out, more API integrations, private learning model implementation and a host of tools have become available. I will watch with interest how this all begins to play out and would love to hear any ideas from engineers!

PS: this article was written with the aid of ChatGPT4

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: www.team-aguri.com

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

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Winning ways in Buenos Aires

Wow, what a weekend! Amlin Aguri’s first win in the FIA’s first fully electric championship! It is an amazing feeling to get a result after all the work put in by the team over the last three years.

“Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.”

Plus it takes a lot of work to start a new team in a completely new championship – but it’s worth it when all the effort is rewarded! Many people have asked what we did to get to the front, what has changed, how did we do it?

The build up to the race win really started after all of our troubles in Punta del Este.

The series test, on the Sunday after the Punta race, was the first time that Antonio (Felix de Costa) and Salvador (Duran) really had a chance to test the car after Antonio had missed much of the pre-season testing and the first race in Beijing with BMW DTM duties. This, coupled with the fact that race weekends are so short which restricts running, means that when you haven’t got the car in the “zone” it is extremely difficult to do anything meaningful with regard to setup or finding solutions.

Our race pace has been quick from the beginning with Takuma setting the fastest lap in Beijing. So what we were looking for was time to get a proper qualifying setup and thereby increase our race pace accordingly. You must remember that if we hadn’t had an issue during the pit stop in Malaysia, then Antonio could have finished in the top five and potentially on the podium. The engineers worked over the break between Beijing and Putrajaya and then over Christmas before Punta to get our models and understanding of the car to a point that we could validate this understanding during the Punta test. The result was a fastest first sector on the final run of the day before a Red Flag which showed that we were going in the right direction for the next race in Buenos Aires.

Antonio arrived in BA with a quietly confident attitude focussed on making the best of our great Punta test and determined to have a great weekend: everyone arriving on a high and following through is a good indicator of the picture of the weekend.

So how did the weekend go? Well in Free Practice 1 the car was quick straight of the box. There was good work carried out during the session, getting everything done that was on the plan; another good step. Some cars were running maximum qualifying power; hence the large gap at the front of the pack but P9 was respectable, showing of potential to come.

Then in FP2, it was maximum at- tack, our final preparation before qualifying and we were immediately quick with our final position of P3 only 0.4s off the leader which showed that our ultimate potential for qualifying and race performance was within reach.

Qualifying is always a lottery. Antonio drew Q1 while Salvador was in Q3. The elusive Q4 without red or yellow flags is the name of the game with a rubbered-in track and potentially better track temperatures, but we made the most of the quicker car and got ourselves in the top 10. Antonio felt it was better to aim for a top 10 position and wait to see how things went in the race instead of necessarily going for pole and having a problem. Starting P7, 0.5s from pole position showed again that we were in the right place for the race.

The race was quite chaotic, but Antonio and Salvador drove sensibly, both overtaking a number of drivers and making the best of battles going on around them. As the race went on we had a great pit stop which resulted in gaining positions for Antonio and a safety car which caused some confusion with everyone waiting for the screens to update with the final order to be clear.

As we moved up the leader board it became more and more stressful for everyone in the garage as there was more to lose with each increment Antonio gained! By the time he was in a podium position, the tension was showing on everyone’s faces! And as each problem happened on track we were increasingly on the edge of our seats! Salvador was also making up places and looked like he would get into the points as well.


At that stage we could see that Antonio had plenty of battery life left over and
he was therefore in a great position to push all the way to the end of the race and catch Nick Heidfeld before the chequered flag. When the drive-through came for Nick we almost couldn’t believe it, we just had to hold our breath and bite our nails till the end of the race.

Some people might say that there was some luck involved, but you can bring up many old adages about finishing first that you must first finish, and that goes for every element of the car, our team work, the car setup, the drivers’ management of the car’s batteries, the control systems, our pit stop practice and also how the other teams run their cars. Every part of a team is important and we have proven in previous races that we too could have technical problems such as electronic control systems with Takuma at the first race and pit stop problems that cause issues.

Were we lucky?

Luck is when opportunity meets preparation,and we certainly had the pace to take the opportunities delivered to us over the weekend.


Whats next? Miami, where we should make some improvement on all aspects of the team operation, the car setup, our race strategy and some driver training. We have the pace and now it is a matter of building on success and doing a better job at each race and chipping away at the championship points to move ourselves up the grid. After all we love a challenge; otherwise we wouldn’t have entered such a unique and brand new championship!

Following my last column I have been very interested in the questions that we are being asked in our pre-race press conferences, especially at Buenos Aires where they are big fans of motorsport. One of the most common topics was, ‘how will the technology find its way into the world?’ The best example I could see was the bus rapid transit system they have in the city which is a great example of where electric drive, regenerative systems and wireless charging will find its way quickly into practical everyday applications.

You should remember that Uruguay generates 45% of their electricity from hydro
with a target of 90% in 2015 coming from renewables. The intermittent nature of some renewables will benefit from the “Energy Cloud” that will be created when more electric vehicles connect to the network and allow off line storage in the night for solar and during low wind conditions for wind.

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

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Why is the Foxconn announcement so interesting?

Like many young engineers, I wanted to build my own road car. I began to plan out how much it would cost, where I would buy parts, what would I use as a donor vehicle, how would I manufacture the bodywork and especially and most importantly: what engine would I use?!

I didn’t just want to make just another kit car, it had to be scaleable with my own engine. And that’s where I ran into trouble. If you look at most low volume specialist cars today they use an engine from one of the top OEM’s, for example Lotus uses Toyota engines.

This makes the internal combustion engine an important part of an OEM’s differentiation in the market and a large barrier to entry for new would be manufacturers.  The shear number of requirements for the development of an internal combustion engine today is enormous: €500m would be a good round number to start with in the bank!

But what happens when the internal combustion engine is removed from the equation as with an electric car? Electric motors have existed for over 100 years and they are in almost every common house hold device from a fridges to an air conditioner.  The old barrier to market entry is reduced by a large margin.  The design of a vehicle, although complicated and complex, it is not too dissimilar to designing a modern high end SMART Phone.  It is still difficult, but not an insurmountable challenge and many large companies would be very capable.

This change in the market will allow new entrants and possibly the disruptive change in the automotive industry perhaps to the same level as other industries that are described in great detail in Clayton Christensen’s The Innovators Dilemma.  The recent announcement by Foxconn is an interesting move by one of the world’s largest manufacturers and it could be the start of more movements by Apple, Google and others into one of the oldest markets in the world: transportation.

With the added innovations through driverless capabilities maybe the new entrants change the market as fast as SMART phones did in the mobile market?  Initially we don’t think this is likely just because of the higher capital intensity of a car compared to a phone and the shear number of vehicles that would have to be replaced throughout the world.  But with 80m vehicles being produced every year, it is not unfathomable that new competitors could make a dent in urban markets in the Mega-Cities of the world.

Our belief is that transportation will develop in a trajectory driven by Urbanisation: this is well described in Frost and Sullivan’s Mega-Trends study.   The resultant changes in the industry will move towards mobility becoming a service: i.e. Mobility as a Service.  At this point it is highly possible that vehicles become a set of “devices” on a network integrated by overall mobility integrators: similar to the telecoms integrators such as Vodafone and Telefonica.  These mobility integrators will operate different devices on the network which could be provided by existing and incoming device manufacturers such as Foxconn.

Is this move by Foxconn just the start of something far larger?  We think so and have been working on Integrated Transportation studies with the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University in a Technology Strategy Board sponsored feasibility study in Oxford, UK, called the Oxford Transport Laboratory. click here

The Amlin Aguri Formula E car in China's Beijing Mega-City
The Amlin Aguri Formula E car in China’s Mega-City Beijing

Race to the future

A year from now, climate negotiators representing countries worldwide will be in Paris. They hope to finalise international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. Success will depend heavily on economic policy, and the new technologies to usher in a carbon light world.

“Unlike treaties of the past, the Paris agreement needs to speak as loudly of economic transformation as it does of carbon emissions targets,” said Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President. The Bank wants new clean technology investments. It wants energy efficiency, performance standards for vehicles and clear economic remit for change.

Motorsport seems an unlikely partner in all this. But the silent technologies being developed in Formula E are ideally placed to put the Bank’s vision on the ground. The Formula, a hotbed for excitement and intrigue, is also a key testing space for sustainable batteries, systems and futurist thinking.

Amlin Aguri racecar driven by Antonio Felix da Costa in Punta del Este, December 2014
Amlin Aguri racecar driven by Antonio Felix da Costa in Punta del Este, December 2014

“The future I see is for energy companies to become energy carriers,” says Preston. He has 12 years top level motorsport experience with Arrows, McLaren and Super Aguri F1 teams. Electric motors and reimagined transport are central to his vision. It involves carbon-light urban mobility in the cities of tomorrow.

“Fuel, batteries, hydrogen; they are all just carriers of energy. The energy is just stored in a number of different forms. Each has relevance to future transportation and we are working on all within SAFE Racing Technologies, our technology company that support the Amlin Aguri Formula E racing team.”

Finding more reliable energy storage is key. Preston believes legislation is a strong force to help. “If one mega city in China changed its rules to have zero emissions in the city, this could support three new, sustainable electric car companies, all using futurist batteries and storage tech.” he says.

“I think one of the reasons this hasn’t started yet is because the local companies are not quite there with the technology, so the government won’t start until the local companies can support. This is where Formula E comes in.” Motorsports has traditionally driven development in clutches or computer controlled suspension. Now it provides a testbed for advanced EV technologies.

“Once one city does EV successfully, it is possible to start a snowball effect with cities such as Los Angeles perhaps trying again; they tried in the 90s if I recall,” says Preston. In another shift in sustainable thinking, he explains how Formula E is exploring parallels between energy and cloud-based computer systems.

“When software is based in the cloud, individual upgrades in server speeds or software tweaks see all users on the system benefiting immediately,” he begins.

“I think the same could be true of our electrical grid. Today we have coal fired powerstations, but as soon as one of them is upgraded the whole system would be simultaneously. The concept is the ‘Energy Cloud,’ as some people are beginning to call it.

“As more renewables come online, this energy cloud is naturally and automatically upgraded. When more energy carriers connect to the smart grid, and electric cars plug in, the intermittent nature of some renewables is dealt with automatically by the Smart Energy Cloud.”

In this way, cohesive cloud systems could alleviate shortfalls in solar or wind power through scale. “Some more radical ideas could be carbon sequestration at the source of the power generation,” Preston continues.

Returning to the Formula E circuit, he hopes to see static batteries, ready at each race track one month before the race. These would be charged using solar and other renewables, from the smart energy cloud ready for use on race day.

“After the race they would be used for legacy projects; emergency power backup systems for hospital and schools. Cars need only be one part of the modal mix. The design will have longevity. I see Formula E providing a showcase for technology to encourage early adoption of new ideas by making the technology cool and relevant.”

Such Formula E technology might feature in tomorrow’s cars, trains or buses, depending on market dynamics. Preston points out that F1 flywheel technology is finding its way into buses at the moment. “Routes to market can take different paths. Formula E will develop technologies to push overall electrification of the transport industry.”

Widespread takeup for EV may well need direct wireless charging, which Preston discussed at a recent sustainable transport forum in Cologne. “Many bus projects are up and running where a bus will charge at every stop on its journey, effectively giving it limitless range using an electric drivetrain.

“Formula E is developing battery charging, packaging and programming of usage patterns. We are set to  really showcase what a cool and interesting thing electrification of vehicles is.”

Jim Yong Kim believes decarbonising energy sectors over time, while maintaining energy required for development constitutes a challenge no developed country has faced in its history.

“Getting to net zero emissions before 2100 will require a continuing shift in the direction of our energy portfolio, to support energy access for all and increase investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency,” he said.

“It will require continued support for clean transportation and building low-carbon, livable cities, particularly in the fast-growing cities of the developing world, where development today will lock in growth patterns for decades to come.”

Such green transportation may seem light years from the race tracks of Putrajaya or Uruguay. But perhaps, as electric race cars whizz quietly around, the answers are coming.

Betting on Electric

I have re-posted my Blog article from Huffington Post here to add a few more comments after speaking at a few more events recently.  I was very interested in how many students at Oxford and Cambridge were interested in our vision for the future, what did we think would happen next, how will it effect their futures.

Thinking on it since, if I was leaving University in the next few years and wanted to work in an industry with longevity which was looking to change the world, then I would have to think long and hard.  Even if I look at some of the long term predictions for fossil fuel which have it dominating automotive for at least the next 20-30 years, at current graduate would only be in the middle of their careers by then, which means that what ever I bet on now should carry me a long way.  Which way would i bet on the future?

Betting on Electric by Mark Preston

When I was a student engineer I wanted to build my own road car. I planned out how much it would cost, where I would buy parts, what would I use as a donor vehicle, how would I manufacture the bodywork and most importantly: what engine would I use? I didn’t want to make just another kit car, it had to be scalable, and with my own engine. And that’s where I ran into trouble.

If you look at most low volume specialist cars today they have to use an engine from one of the top Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs): for example Lotus uses Toyota engines in their cars. This makes the Internal Combustion Engine an important part of an OEM’s differentiation in the market and a large barrier to entry for new would-be manufacturers. The sheer number of requirements for the development of a new internal combustion engine today is enormous: €500m would be a good round number to start with!

But what happens when the internal combustion engine is removed from the equation? Which is the case with an electric car. Electric motors have existed for over 100 years and they are in almost every common household device from a fridge to an air conditioner. The barrier to market entry is suddenly reduced considerably and allows a whole range of possibilities. The design of an electric vehicle, although complicated and complex, is not too dissimilar to designing a modern high end smartphone. It is still difficult, but not an insurmountable challenge. Many large companies would be very capable of designing and manufacturing an electric vehicle with the help of any number of large engineering companies that exist.

The innovation to drive the electric Powertrain development and concepts such as wireless charging will come from one of the newest motorsports in the world, the FIA Electric Vehicles Series: Formula E. Our team, Amlin Aguri, had its first race in Beijing this year and we believe that Formula E will help to revolutionise the technology required to drive development in the road going world.

Amlin Aguri in Beijing for the first FIA electric car race.

The change brought about by Foxconn’s investment in the market, and the advent of new competitive motorsport arenas, to push development will create new entrants and possibly the disruptive change in the automotive industry to the same level as other industries that are described in great detail in Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma. The recent announcement by Foxconn is an interesting example of the future of the world’s largest manufacturers and it could be the start of more movements by Apple, Google and others into one of the oldest markets in the world: transportation. The Chinese government has stated in the past that strategically there is no reason for home grown car companies to develop ICEs; it would be better to leapfrog to full EV where the playing field is much more equal.

With the added innovations through driverless capabilities, like new driverless buses, maybe the new innovators will change the market as fast as smartphones did in the mobile market. Initially rapid change is unlikely because of the higher capital intensity of a car, compared to a phone, and the sheer number of vehicles that would have to be replaced throughout the world. But with 80 million vehicles being produced every year, it is not unfathomable that new competitors could make a dent in urban markets in the megacities of the world.

Switching to EVs helps to alleviate the pollution problem in urban centres, though it doesn’t remove the congestion. As part of a recent study I carried out in Oxford, UK, which involved the University of Oxford, Oxford Brookes University and the County Council, we looked at the problems of capacity in a small city with only five main roads entering the city centre. The photo below illustrates that, by running higher density of people, in this case with buses or bicycles, the capacity of the arteries is increased.

Density of travel for the 70 people using cars, buses, bicycles and walking.

Therefore the trajectory of development in transportation will be driven by urbanisation, especially in megacities of the world which have the populations and hence the spending power to make real changes. The concept is well described in Frost and Sullivan’s Mega­Trends study. The resultant changes in the industry will move towards mobility becoming a service: i.e. mobility as a Service. At this point it is highly possible that vehicles become a set of “devices” on a network integrated by overall systems integrators: similar to the telecoms integrators such as Vodafone and Telefonica. These vehicle systems integrators will operate different devices on the network that could be provided by existing and incoming device manufacturers – such as Foxconn or Google.

Is the move by Foxconn technology group to invest heavily in electric vehicles in China just the start of something far larger? We at Amlin Aguri think so.

Mark Preston is the Team Principal of Formula E racing team: Amlin Aguri.

Mark will be speaking at “Eco Machines: Designing the Cars of the Future” hosted by Intelligence Squared and Shell at Saint Catharine’s College, Cambridge on October 21st 2014.

Oxford Consortium Wins TSB Integrated Transportation Call

Technology Strategy Board: Integrated Transport – In Field Solutions
Project: Oxford Transport Laboratory

Benefiting people and business

The benefits of creating smarter, connected cities are clear – increased economic growth and better visitor experience whilst reducing environmental impact. Funded by the Technology Strategy Board, Oxford is embarking on an ambitious project to improve the experience of visiting the City by creating open systems, processes and technologies that will benefit visitors, residents and  businesses alike.

Driven by Innovation

The most important aspect of this project will be the harmonisation of the data and technologies that currently exist but remain locked into the business and government systems. Our ability to provide this data for the use of all stakeholders will be of critical importance in ensuring the continued growth of Oxford as a commercial, educational and employment centre.

This project will propose ways for Oxford to increase its economic viability for every stakeholder in the city – an improvement in traffic management, parking, increased visitor numbers, increased retail spend by visitors and better communication around mobility within the ring road are key objectives.

We also have an important job to do – limiting the impact of the closure of the Westgate centre and car park. Redevelopment plans mean that in January 2015 Oxford centre will lose 800 of it’s existing 2,000 car parking spaces, placing additional burdens on all areas of the transport system. As a result there is considerable risk of reduced income to retailers and businesses.

This initial 3 month project will provide clear analysis and recommendations as to how Oxford should approach these challenges, in both the short and longer terms. Innovation with technology, data and smart processes will be at heart of our recommendations, and will provide a platform for the development of an open system to the benefit of all.

Mobility, Communication, Partnerships

We already have a significant amount of data showing the way that people move in and around Oxford, and we are putting in significant efforts to analyse this data. However this project will go further than simply looking at traffic and transportation solutions. We recognise that to be successful, Oxford must also engage with people and businesses.

The key partners that will form part of the Oxford study bring a wide and varied experience – chipset providers and other technology providers, companies that run public transport, retailers, University and Local Authorities. We will cover all aspects that a smart city should provide to its visitors and residents..

The start of the journey

We are still at the formative stages of the Oxford project, focusing on understanding the main challenges that the city faces, analysing the data we have around transport and the movement of people in and around the city and establishing relationships with key companies and organisations.


About the Technology Strategy Board

The Technology Strategy Board is the UK’s innovation agency.  Its goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation.  Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy. For more information please visit www.innovateuk.org.

About Preston Motorsport

Preston Motorsport was formed in 2005 by Mark Preston who wanted to create a company which used motorsports DNA to support the wider industry to create real disruptive innovation.  Preston Motorsports first worked with the Super Aguri team when it supported the entry into Formula 1 team, competing in the World Championship from 2006 to 2008. Their new partnership will see Super Aguri Formula E team compete in the FIA Formula E Championship for low emission cars, racing on 10 tracks across the globe commencing in September 2014.

Preston said, “it became obvious to us a few years ago that the future of transportation was not going to centre around cars as it has done for the last few decades, there will be a disruptive shift in how we live, travel and interact with transportation devices.  We believe strongly that the future will be “Mobility as a Service”.  We began working on this project in after a trip to San Francisco looking at innovation and ideas surrounding the future of automotive and came up with this proposal for Oxford.  We have a great set of partners who we believe will deliver exciting new ideas that can be rolled out to the world.”


About Oxford County Council

Working on this TSB project has enabled the County Council as Transport Authority to  form a consortium with Businesses and the Universities creating opportunities for the Council to lead, influence, and gain funding for innovative transport solutions.  The County Council will provide access to a variety of real-time and historical datasets sourced from the private and public sector. Creating business opportunities and encouraging SME to grow in Oxfordshire and the South East by allowing developers and other stakeholders to use the data they need to build applications and services for the benefit of transport users and beyond. Oxfordshire County Council is designing an  Innovation Support Programme which will provide a web portal with information about local and national business support services, linking up growing services and provide support and funding to the innovators , investors and entrepreneurs involved in the county’s innovation eco-system.

About DBi (Elisa Interactive Ltd)

DBi is one of Europe’s leading data and marketing technology consultancies, and was recently acquired by Havas Media Group in an effort to increase their global footprint in the space. Our focus is on the optimising technology and data that drives business insights and growth, and enabling companies to become smarter.

The Oxford project gives us the opportunity to work with a city, rather than with brands, however the objective for us is the same – how to make Oxford smarter through the use of data and technology. We incredibly excited to be part of making this happen.

About Zeta Automotive

Zeta Automotive, formed 25 years ago is a highly innovative electronic development company. With several awards for innovative technology, Zeta is a Tier one supplier to the motor industry.  Arriva PLC recently acquired a majority stake in Zeta having approved one of its latest products for roll out across its fleet of buses.  Arriva is one of the largest transport services organisations in Europe.

About The University of Oxford

The Transport Studies Unit (TSU) (http://www.tsu.ox.ac.uk) is an interdisciplinary research centre based at University of Oxford. Over the past 40 years the TSU has established an international research reputation in the fields of transport policy analysis, mobility and travel behaviour research, and the development of new methodologies and tools. Particular emphasis is placed on understanding the social, economic, environmental and health implications of transport and mobility over both time and space. The TSU’s work ranges in geographic scale from the local to the global, and the full spectrum of quantitative and qualitative research techniques is deployed.

David Banister, Director and Professor of Transport Studies, said: “Transport is a topic that impacts on all of us and it substantially influences the way in which we see the world and interact with it. Transport is also of great importance to economic wellbeing and the social participation of individuals and communities, in particular in mixed-use, urban areas such as Oxford.”

The Energy & Power Group (EPG) in the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford undertakes computational and experimental sustainable energy research with particular focus onsmart energy systems, energy storage, transport and electrical machines. It has a strong record of commercialising the research activity and has lead to three spin out companies.

Malcolm McCulloch, Head of the Energy and Power Group, said “This opportunity can enable the City of Oxford to pioneer an exciting integrated mobility system that improves the experience of travelling into the City and reduces the net carbon footprint.”

About Oxford Brookes University

The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences provides a range of professionally accredited mechanical, automotive, motorsport, mathematical and statistical programmes of study. Our focus is to provide world class, high quality teaching and applied research so as to give our students an excellent experience.


Super Aguri Formula E Tokyo Launch

Mark Preston and Aguri Suzuki
Launch photos for Super Aguri Formula E team in Tokyo.

It is good to be back in the forefront of motorsports with the Super Aguri team again.  We are very much looking forward to the challenges that Formula E is going to throw at us.  Being at the forefront of motorsports technology and developing the technology of the future is exciting.  We believe that there will be a disruptive change that comes in the automotive industry through all of the different technologies coming together to create Mobility as a Service.  Smart phones, urbanisation, congestion and pollution are but some of the drivers.