12 October 2016

Where the Future is Reality

Industrial designer Alain Brideson looks at emerging technologies that can change the way we get around Auckland for the better.


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When we wake in a Utopian future landscape of flying cars, what steps did we take to get there? Futuristic transport options being rolled out in cities around the world will one day be part of our everyday travel agenda.

During his European career as a transportation designer, Alain Brideson has completed many ground-breaking projects for leading manufacturers. Among those with which he has been involved is an ingenious self-drive, commuter vehicle from the creative Swiss think tank Rinsteed, which taps into the idea of swarm intelligence to revolutionise urban traffic.

More like a street gondola than a car, the microMAX uses a cloud-based system that allows easy access to navigation functions in real-time. Based on information from all vehicles connected to the swarm, the system can modify routes dynamically to adapt to current traffic.

The microMax

The microMax

Alain explains you have your own individual pod that links with other cars to form a module, “like a river or a school of fish” that work together as one. One pod nips off to collect passengers from their doorstep then rejoins other “rivers” as they head to a shared destination.

“It’s expanding the possibilities of self-drive technology”

A concept that combines the benefits of personal transportation with those of taxis, car-sharing services and carpool concepts as well as those offered by public transit. It’s just one idea he says could work for Auckland in the future.

Although there is currently a lot of fear around self-driving car technology, says Alain, it is already here. “We have cruise control and park assist. People will have this option in the future - but it’s a really gradual process.”

microMax design sketches

microMax design sketches

For several years, Alain lived and worked in Zurich then in Northern Italy where he experienced first hand the ease of integrated transport systems – all connected for a far more efficient travel network.

He cites Zurich as a real life example of a city with an integrated system where personal vehicles and public transport are optimally connected so people and cities flow better. “It has already evolved for optimum efficiency. They have sensors around the city centre which count the cars coming to the centre. Once it reaches the limit it can cope with, the system alters traffic light signals to slow the number of cars coming in.”

In Italy, he used a neat, economical car pooling app linked to an array of shared vehicles – cars, trains, buses, trams and mountain gondolas – which made travel throughout the city seamless.

Then there is the Toyota’s Ha:Mo Ride, he says. Toyota’s vision is for an eco-friendly car sharing network of ultra-compact electric mobility vehicles designed to complement public transportation. Ha:Mo Ride fills the gap buses and trains can’t provide as they can travel in different areas of the city between commuter public stations.

Now back in Auckland, Alain continues to work on a contract for Rinspeed. “I am considering the future and how we might achieve interconnectivity between a variety of amazing new technologies for vehicles. My job is to bring everything together in one beautiful form that works as well as it looks.” 

Integration, connectivity – Alain uses these words often. Not surprisingly they are a major part of his vision for Auckland’s future transport. “In general my vision is for an efficient integrated transport network, and it has to be easy, with more supportive pedestrian zones, less cars, more areas where we can ride our bikes safely and better options for people to get from a to b.

“The future is all about interconnectivity and options. Auckland city needs to focus on high density to cope with the growing population. A lot more people will move into apartments.  It will open new doors. People will use parks more and there will be more community.”

In Auckland, personal transport will always be around, he says, but we need to reduce the number of cars coming in and make the alternatives easier and affordable.

“People always travel the path of least resistance. If they do the numbers and it will take twice as long to get to their destination by train as it would by car, they’ll take the train.”

His idea for the CBD is Queen Street with one tram down the middle. It’s about closing the centre for vehicles and opening it up for other things.  In 10 years time, Alain says there will definitely be light rail in Auckland. “We’ll see trams running throughout the suburbs, just as they used to. It has to happen along wide roads that used to have trams, like Great North Road, Dominion Road, Mt Eden Road, Sandringham Road. That will make Auckland a really functional international city.

“We’ll have a really awesome cycling network. That’s really achievable in the next 10 years. We’ll have the Skypath going over the Harbour Bridge and light rail going to the North Shore. One day, I’d like to think there will be a second harbour crossing for just public transport going to Devonport.

“They’ll move the port to Tauranga or Whangarei – our prime real estate could be used for so much more - and have fast trains linked to Auckland. That will also create more jobs in other cities.”

Finally, he says, New Zealanders have got to get on with it and start thinking big, bold and long term. “It’s about setting up the chess pieces and looking 50 years ahead, instead of just 10.”

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