Amongst the modern furniture and "design-art" on display at this year's Design Miami/ international design show visitors were also treated to the Bjarke Ingels Group's (BIG) vision for the future of urban mobility. Dubbed "Urban Future," the international architectural firm's installation, created with the cooperation of Audi, provided a glimpse of how its concept for the city street of the future that networks with vehicles and pedestrians might actually work.
While we've seen numerous concepts for networked vehicles that would communicate with infrastructure and have the ability to operate autonomously, such as GM's EN-V concept, the "Urban Future" concept is possibly the most eye-catching. The installation consists of a 185 meter square (1,991 square foot) section of road featuring a digitally programmable LED surface that uses 3D cameras to sense the movements of not only vehicles, but also pedestrians.
The installation is designed to provide a visual illustration of how a road of the future would sense and take into account the needs of various road users - motorized, pedal powered and pedestrian - and adapt to accommodate all, essentially blurring the line between roads, sidewalks and public spaces, such as city squares and allowing the road to change its function throughout the day.
The concept would see traffic flowing autonomously without the need for traffic lights or even the need for streets to be separated from sidewalks. Rather, the "road" would be a multifunctional space shared by vehicles and pedestrians, with the vehicles autonomously avoiding the pedestrians as they move around the space.
"If I imagine a city in 25 years, the street can change within one single day multiple times: from a pedestrian area to a highway, from the city square to meadow," said BIG founder Bjarke Ingels.
BIG created the concept in 2010 for the Audi Urban Future Award architecture competition, with the networked Audi A2 concept vehicle forming part of the installation. The LED road surrounds pedestrians with a glowing halo, while a trial is left behind the car as it moves and arrows are emitted from the front of the vehicle to show its future path. The path changes dynamically in response to the movement of pedestrians.
While some aspects of BIG's "Urban Future" concept might seem far fetched - LED roads probably aren't going to be appearing in city streets any time soon - it does provide some inspiration for what might be possible when truly autonomous vehicles become the norm. Instead of simply ferrying people from A to B on existing roads like robotic taxis, they could allow some of the space currently devoted to roads to be used for multiple purposes.