"We want to decode the DNA of urban mobility." These were the words of Audi chairman of the board Rupert Stadler as he presented the third Audi Urban Futures prize to the winning team from Mexico City. The idea behind Urban Futures is to try and help Audi, and cities across the world, better understand the intersections between private automobile and public transport use, and to try and use Audi's technological breakthroughs as solutions to problems like congestion or inadequate parking spaces.
There were four teams in the running, representing four major urban areas. Mexico City's team won with a proposal to use the data flowing from the mobile phones and devices of the city's 22-million inhabitants to build a 3D map of transport usage. With that knowledge, it also proposed the creation of a Bitcoin-like currency - MobCoin, which could be earned and traded for using transport solutions like automobile sharing and automobile pooling, as Mexico City desperately tries to shake off its label as the world's most congested city.
Other entrants included Boston (which presented modelling software that predicts the effects new technology will have on traffic flows and transport use), Seoul (which posited a future where automobiles become much more like social living spaces) and Berlin (which created a hybrid of private transport and public rail using interlocking wheel-shaped pods).
It was all very high-tech and happy-clappy about the future, but it was underpinned by a very real and unpalatable truth - that cities across the world would quite like to ban private automobile use altogether, an outcome that Audi (nor any automobile maker) simply cannot afford to let happen. By extending its technological reach to include urban planning and multi-mode transport solutions, Audi is clearly trying to make itself indispensable to city managers and planners in the future.
Probably the most real and impressive technology spoken of was Audi's automated parking system. Already at the prototype stage, this allows you to drive your automobile into town, and then get out and tell your automobile, by smartphone, to go and find a parking space. This allows, says Audi, the automobile to slot into much smaller spaces than at current and potentially reduce the land-space needs of automobile parks by as much as 50 per cent.
We were also allowed a quick spin in an A3 equipped with Audi's new traffic light communications tech. It's an on-board system that communicates with the server controlling a city's traffic lights (Berlin, in this case) and which knows ho long they'll stay green or red for. It can then tell the driver the optimum speed at which to drive so as to catch as many green lights as possible. It will also re-start your engine five seconds before a red light goes green, so as to make sure you're ready to go. Audi claims that the system can help to get many more automobiles through a green light cycle than can be done with just the driver in charge and that it can significantly reduce congestion and emissions. It's a relatively simple system, a bit daunting at first with all the extra information to take in, but it would be easy enough to adapt to, we reckon, and certainly makes driving in town more rela.
Be in no doubt that Audi is deadly serious about this. As Stadler himself said "Without mobility our economy would quickly grind to a halt. There will always be a market for private automobiles in cities, no matter how god the public transport system gets, and part of being premium in the future means more space in cities and more time for citizens."