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"Urban Future" concept blurs lines between roads, sidewalks and city squares

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December 5, 2011

Flashing arrows displayed on the road indicate the vehicle's future path

Flashing arrows displayed on the road indicate the vehicle's future path

Image Gallery (10 images)

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 'Urban Future' concept would see the line between roads, sidewalks and public spaces b...

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.

The 'Urban Future' concept from BIG

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.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
6 Comments

Good grief. Self indulgent twaddle. I hope I die before I get to see this abomination come to fruition. Is no-one working on a vision of the future which uses less energy, creates less pollution? Keep using it up people and we'll be back in the dark ages.

Facebook User
6th December, 2011 @ 02:17 am PST

It's too bad LED roads aren't going to be a reality. It might be wasteful, but it'd be pretty too.

Von Meerman
6th December, 2011 @ 02:55 am PST

Here is a video I made of the project:

Buster Cox
6th December, 2011 @ 08:59 am PST

Clearly this was designed by an architect and not an engineer - it's stupid to expect that the path of something with the momentum of an automobile (10x the weight and several times the speed) to dynamically adjust its path according to pedestrians. Anyone who has ever driven in a densely populated area, or in the vicinity of a well attended event, knows that cars and pedestrians mix a lot better if each has some rules which are (at least mostly) followed. It's hard enough just walking fast through a mall - and computers won't ever be enough smarter than humans to get around that.

What I could see is the elimination of lanes. For vehicles all moving in the same direction with set destinations and dynamic tracking of break-downs and emergency vehicles (and perhaps parking, traffic could potentially move much faster and get drivers close to their destinations much more efficiently. The first step would be to begin dynamically tracking parking spaces, which would also make city officials happy as they could auto-ticket cars as soon as their parking runs out (removing some human error and freeing resources from a somewhat thankless job to something more important). Some parking structures already have vehicle sensing technology, so attaching it to something that a smart phone could use to "locate the nearest spot" would only be a matter of networking data and marketing.

Charles Bosse
6th December, 2011 @ 12:36 pm PST

Real visionary stuff!!

Kerry Lauren Jothy
6th December, 2011 @ 10:30 pm PST

See http://www.solarroadways.com to see a system designed by engineers.

Ed. We also covered Solar Roadways here: http://www.gizmag.com/solar-panel-roads/12780/

Scott Julie Brusaw
8th December, 2011 @ 11:01 pm PST
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