Are we looking to the past for transport solutions for the future? Jen​ée Tibshraeny wades into the transport debate

Are we looking to the past for transport solutions for the future? Jen​ée Tibshraeny wades into the transport debate

By Jenée Tibshraeny

Light rail, roads of national significance, urban cycle ways, new bus lanes, regional rail - these are the transport solutions being put on the table by National and Labour ahead of the election.

While National’s policy is more heavily weighted towards roads and Labour’s towards rail, there is a glaring omission in both policies - autonomous vehicles.  

Neither have made mention of how autonomous cars, taxis, trucks and buses will shape infrastructure planning and spend.

Fair enough, you say, there are too many variables and unknowns that will affect when this technology moves from the test lab to the mainstream.

When will autonomous vehicles become the norm? Not for a while…

AUT electric engineering Professor Reinhard Klette expects electric vehicles to “dominate” the market in five years’ time, yet maintains autonomous vehicles are 20 years away. He sees cities with quality infrastructure or good highway networks as the first adopters of autonomous vehicles.

Infrastructure New Zealand’s CEO, Stephen Selwood, maintains autonomous cars are 20 to 30 years away. At around NZ$65,000, he maintains Tesla driverless-compatible cars are still too expensive, especially alongside the cheap second-hand Japanese cars in the market.

A 2015 report commissioned by Auckland Transport, prepared by Synergine Group and reviewed by Auckland University and University College London, predicts that by 2055, only 50% of New Zealand’s fleet will be autonomous.

…or soon?

Yet New York-based fund manager, ARK Invest, is among those Selwood describes as the “evangelists”, “overly-optimistic” about how soon autonomous cars will become the norm.

Part-owned by Nikko Asset Management, and solely focussed on investing in disruptive technology, ARK is adamant fully autonomous vehicles will become commercially available by 2020.

ARK believes “mobility-as-a-service” platforms, which have a market cap of US$110 billion, are undervalued and should be worth US$1-3 trillion.

It sees annual electric vehicle sales hitting 17 million in five years’ time; its estimate way above that of the EIA and OPEC at 2 million. 

Its forecast for how oil demand will fall in the future also looks glaring different to BP’s.

Speaking to at a Nikko conference in Auckland last month, ARK CEO Catherine Wood says her brazen projections are based on assumptions around the extent to which the economies of scale associated with greater autonomous vehicle production will cut prices for consumers.

“We’ve seen what the response to falling electric vehicle prices is elsewhere. With better cars - with Tesla really leading the charge here - it might even be stronger than that,” Wood says.

“Auto manufacturers are watching Tesla and Tesla’s product cycle is more like a tech product cycle, not a four to five-year design and production cycle for autos. Auto companies are starting to shorten their time from design to production.

“And they’re all moving electric. They have a really big problem on their hands. They’ve got to change their business model. They see where the market’s going, and they’re panicked.”

ARK believes that the all-in cost per mile of an autonomous taxi will be US35 cents by 2020, while the current cost of a personal car is US70c, and that of a taxi is US$3.50.

ARK maintains that while it costs US12c to transport a metric tonne of freight a mile by truck, and 4c by rail, it will cost only 2c to 3c to do so by autonomous truck.  

Public transport key as autonomous cars a last mile solution

“If we’re right, you don’t want to be building more rail,” Wood says.

Yet Selwood, Klette and Matt Lowrie of Greater Auckland (formerly the Transport Blog), don’t believe we should specifically prioritise spending on roads over rail, due to developments in autonomous vehicle technology.

They all see autonomous cars as a “last mile” solution - particularly in cities. So rather than taking you to work on Queen Street, they’ll be useful in taking you to the bus stop or train station closest to your house.

Lowrie, whose infrastructure suggestions have been adopted by Labour and the Greens, says space is limited, so we still need trains and buses on core routes.

Selwood agrees: “Where the driverless vehicle is going to be transformational, is in large metro CBDs. And it will be great in downtown Auckland. But not a heck of a lot of use for anyone anywhere else… where the origins and destinations and distances of trips are so long…

Klette is on the same page: “Of course, travelling long distances in comfortable public transport will appeal much more than sitting in a little autonomous vehicle for some hours.”

In fact, he believes property prices will be influenced (as they largely are already) by their proximity to public transport hubs.

Lowrie says there’s also a strong argument for public transport being made autonomous sooner rather than later.

“I would expect that anything where we’re paying for a driver to do something, would be ripe for disruption pretty quickly. Much more so than the private vehicle fleet,” he says.

So do we need more roads?

Selwood says: “This debate that’s going on at the moment - should we invest in roads or light rail? - is unfortunate because the reality is, we need to invest in both.”

However Lowrie says that even if you believe autonomous cars are just about to burst onto the market, you don’t need a whole heap of new roads.

“That’s probably the worst investment you could make,” he says, noting how autonomous vehicles will increase efficiency and road capacity.

“The part of Auckland’s transport system that’s missing is our strategic public transport…

“Think about some of the big world cities. London’s not going to suddenly do away with its underground because driverless vehicles are around.”

Klette agrees with Lowrie, saying the efficiency autonomous vehicles will deliver means building more highways isn’t the answer. He maintains cities in the future will be built for people, not cars.

Efficiencies not guaranteed

Yet the writers of the Auckland Transport report believe we need a fleet of 50% autonomous vehicles to see a 22% road capacity improvement. They maintain an 80% fleet will see a 50% improvement, and a 100% fleet, which should eventuate by 2075, an 80% capacity improvement.

They also say: “Significant uptake of single-occupant CAVs (without a reduction in vehicle size) could substantially increase trip generation and demand for roading infrastructure.

“In the absence of road pricing or prioritisation this may be detrimental to the transport network’s overall level of service, in terms of enabling reliable and efficient movements across the city.”

Importantly, they warn that poorly planned infrastructure, lacking places for autonomous cars to go when not in use, could see autonomous vehicles cause more chaos than productivity.

“In the absence of a managed approach by infrastructure providers, CAV [connected and autonomous] technology could significantly increase the demands placed on transport infrastructure, and may limit the viability of some transit modes in the long term.

“However, high capacity transit services will likely remain an important part of the transport network to ensure efficient movement of people during peak hours.”

The social implications

These practical considerations aside, Lowrie, Selwood and Klette acknowledge a mid-set shift is necessary for the autonomous vehicle revolution to occur.

There are legal, security and insurance implications that would need to be worked through.

Lowrie says an Uber-style autonomous car sharing situation could also be problematic while “people treat their cars as extensions of their living rooms”, carrying all sorts of things around with them.

As for transporting freight by autonomous trucks, Selwood points out that you still need humans to on/offload the vehicles at either end of a journey.

So the efficiencies autonomous trucks could deliver by moving through the night when the roads are quiet, would be reduced by the fact the people dealing with the freight at the likes of ports and supermarkets, don’t work through the night.

While autonomous trucks can work 24/7, there isn’t social acceptance for humans to have to do this, where we can help it.

“We would have to put up with quite significant change for those benefits [of autonomous vehicles] to be realised,” Selwood says.

He maintains if we were really keen to get more efficiency out of our transport network, we could do so now, by staggering office and school hours for example. But this isn’t a social cost we’re willing to pay.

Is a change of tack needed from the top?

All in all both Selwood and Klette say they’d like the government to set up an independent body to investigate and analyse transport infrastructure options.

Selwood says transport should be depoliticised, as the divergence between National and Labour’s policies shows a lack of evidence being employed in their decision making.

“The National policies are definitely more attuned to the opportunities, but frankly both parties are almost missing in this conversation [of future proofing our transport system],” he says.

Lowrie believes the Ministry of Transport has sought a lot of advice on autonomous cars, even if this isn’t evident in government policy.

Selwood wants to see road pricing introduced as soon as possible,

He maintains the government should bite the bullet and borrow what’s necessary to invest in infrastructure, as this spurs growth and productivity.

“We should look at borrowing as an investment in the future, not an increase in debt.”

Selwood notes the world’s awash with capital. The Chinese banks, among others, are willing to stump up the cash, while the likes of iwi, ACC and the Super Fund are seeking investment opportunities in infrastructure.

We just need to bring more investable projects to the market, he says.

Klette concludes: “There is no simple answer here what to do, but there is a need to think 30 or 50 years ahead when planning major transportation projects.”

(You can see all major political parties' transport policies here).

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The parties have no policies about autonomous vehicles because they are too ignorant to understand changing technology. In fact the only article I saw recently was someone from Morgan Stanley investing more in alcoholic drink production with the reasoning being that with autonomous vehicles people would be able to drink prior to traveling and while travelling. Do you think any party has considered who is actually in control of an autonomous vehicle and if operating it while drunk is an issue or not?

Until the cars are actually fully autonomous (which is a long way off) the operator will still be required to be able to take over at any point, and therefore be not intoxicated.
That will only change once actual autonomy (level 5) is viable and at that point there won't be a steering wheel in the car anyway...

The common ground for all road vehicles is the road itself. The roading system could be used to provide many of the navigational and traffic control aids all vehicles would require for this to run smoothly. But all smart cars currently have to be made to deal with dumb roads and keep a lookout for all static and moving items within its sensor range. Think aircraft and air traffic control, then apply it to each intersection. So with roads in the control of governments both local and national it will meet the same old public servant inertia and political drivel that we all know and love. It could be much easier, but my guess it will not be.

LABOUR WILL FIX IT... its in there budget.. the !! billion dollar hole...SMART everything.... a country left behind....

Probably need to invest in more geothermal energy to power these autonomous/electric vehicles first.

all electric transport only adds about 10-20% demand to grid. Utility scale solar is now down to about $0.10/kWh and still dropping, so with our awesome hydroelectric storage situation in NZ to provide load levelling PV is now very close to being able to replace all fossil fuelled power generation in NZ.

I am not so sure your numbers are right. New Zealand imports 50% of its energy needs, and close to 100% of its transport energy.

But overall typical IC car engine transport is only ~20% efficient in converting fuel to propulsive power. With ~80% efficiency of battery electric vehicles we need far less power to run the whole system. This does not include trucking and earth/moving +farm equipment and aircraft and boats/ships that will remain very difficult to electrify.

Road transport
Road freight trucks whether long haul or short haul are already available and the infrastructure can be put in place without hardship. Tesla have announced plans but in reality they are late to join this existing industry.
Postal service vans, courier service vans are also already available and sold in large numbers globally. They typically follow fixed routes and can either top up their batteries at the depot or local infrastructure can be efficiently implemented.
Buses are also available and used in large and increasing numbers globally, there is now no reason for any other type of bus. All fixed route buses should be electric or moving to electric when replaced.

Off road haul trucks are also becoming available with the largest haul trucks are already electric. on large mine sites the infrastructure can and often is be put in place to electrify the entire pit fleet including excavators and trucks. on the largest excavators this can save $500,000 per annum in operating costs, so well worth doing. Some use cables some over head charging similar to the old trolly buses and trams. Autonomous haul trucks are already in service and have been for some years. Volvo recently showed off an autonomous wheel loader loading an autonomous haul truck, i think they were also electric but would need to check to be certain.

Construction equipment / earth moving are already available as hybrids, and due to the location based work could be easily moved towards full electric with impacting their up time. Excavators, bull dozers, graders, compactors, paving, drill rigs, pilling rigs etc. are already largely controlled via machine control technology, with the largest manufactures starting to offer automatics for the blade or bucket control, some steer the machine as well, autonomous activity is very close to reality.

Farm equipment is another market that should be moving fully electric, with the farmer also generating their own electricity via solar and wind, they have the space and can make huge gains in efficiency. Like the automated lawn mowers the tractor could automatically drive back to the charging point and plug when needed. Many tractors already come with GPS based machine control, or use after market system to steer the tractor when sowing, harvesting etc. so the technology is available. Same applied for horticulture.

Aircraft is in early stages, but there are some interesting development in that space, full electric is a reality but not yet commercial.

Electric Boats and ships are already available and in use, from small private leisure boats to large fishing boats.

New Zealand is an ideal country to embrace electrification, small size and population make it easy for us to lead the world, lets take a leaf out of Norway's book and ban the sale of new carbon based fuel vehicles by 2025.

“Of course, travelling long distances in comfortable public transport will appeal much more than sitting in a little autonomous vehicle for some hours.”

Have Lowrie, Selwood and Klettle never participated in rush hour transit using public transport?

The only advantage public transport has over the car is that it removes the task of driving. On space and comfort a little car is much better for the passenger than big trains.

Also you don''t have to pay for parking at the destination, which the price for is fixed by the public transport provider, AT is fundamentally corrupt and self appointed experts such as Matt Lowrie get far to much attention.
They ignore the physics of bus travel (road damage to the 4th order of axle weight) and the fact that buses that only carry 5 people on average (and will never get higher than that) in pursuit of their mythical niirvana

I think you'll find that parking is currently being subsidised by AT. If AT were to close its parking buildings (as it should do), Wilson and Tournament would increase their prices the very next day.

The advantages of public transport depends on the quality of it, but good public mass transit has its advantages beyond the simple removal of the task of driving.

However building the transport infrastructure is only part of the equation, we need good town / city planning to design for people living in the towns and cities rather than for cars etc.

Long distance (100km to 500km) travel by train is great, faster and more efficient along with being more comfortable, also should reduce cost per person per km.

Same can apply for inter city travel via metro, tube, tram etc. move a lot of people from A to B. It is important that these are not impacted by the road traffic congestion, so they should not share the same road as private transport; cars, vans, trucks, etc.

Certainly the private vehicle will offer more privacy and for some more comfort, but it comes at a cost, both in dollars and in mental health, the stresses of rush hour traffic is not good for anyone.

As always the first and last few kilometres that are the issue with public transport, how do we make those efficient, comfortable and low cost.

With some good town/city planning and realistic investment we should be able to bring mass transport to all parts of the city, using this plan we will be able to rezone for high density around the hubs, this will further encourage developers to build up as ground values close the hubs increases. Cars will become less important and walking and cycling will play and increasing role in our thinking.

Slow traffic around the hubs, high speed between them.

Autonomous vehicles could play a role in this as well, but why don't we take the opportunity to design our cities for people rather than cars.

been saying that for a while....

Driver less cars are DOA, in view of the recent car crashes into civilians as terrorist attacks in western cities.
(Pun not intended).

It could be the other way round, maybe no human will be able to control the vehicle where they can put other humans in danger.
there are already in car safety systems that take over, Volvo's auto breaking for example which take over the vehicle so you don't run over some crossing the road, or the various companies that have lane departure override.

“Think about some of the big world cities. London’s not going to suddenly do away with its underground because driverless vehicles are around.”

Auckland is not like London, Auckland is building lots of sprawl in innovative and imaginative places like Warkworth. Auckland, unlike London, is being built for a car centric future and will need a lot more roads.

1) Road pricing - have to agree. Managing peak demand defers the need for expensive infrastructure upgrades, increases PT demand and reduces the subsidy needed for PT.

2) Autonomous vehicles will provide rideshare over more than the last mile. Companies like Chariot which provide minivan rideshare, (& which will eventually be autonomous & dynamically routed to optimise pickup s and drop-offs) will mean that PT can be trimmed right back to the very core high frequency network with high demands & in some cases it could disappear completely (except subsidies for the low income segment)

3) Its not governments job to support autonomous vehicles, but simply get the regulations in place that are needed.

4) Government policy on rail - the business case should do a risk assessment with a lower PT demand to simulate the uptake of autonomous rideshare as an alternative mode.

5) The government/political parties should stop proposing/funding its pet transport projects with poor business cases or at least delay them until the business case improves - every $ spent this way is a $ we don't have for health, poverty and education.

6) We used to have Transfund as a separate body until the Government re-amalgamated it with Transit now NZTA. I agree it should be bought back.

LABOUR will promote electric cars with the support of the greens.... there are no problems left to solve... they have all the amswers...

I know (sister of friend) someone who is already using a Model S to drive her 1 hour commute each way while she works on a laptop (in Asia), requiring her only to do underground-carparking at each end. The tech is working and will be ubiquitous way sooner than everyone thinks thanks to 10's of billions being spent on development.

Trains are a terrible infrastructure choice, because western countries are pretty much incapable of doing any major infrastructure project in less than 5-10 years, no significant rail development can be done before autonomous cars arrive in a big way. Autonomous can also be done in all sizes, from enclosed mobility scooter sized to buses for longer distance higher volume commuter routes and greater road carrying capacity. As such roading investment is really the only transport infrastructure investment that makes any sense at this point and existing commuter train routes will quickly be converted to extra road corridors due to the greater utility of point-to-point services.

And that is without getting into the burgeoning field of VTOL electric air taxis (eg Lillium, Airbus, Joby, ZeeAero, Aurora, Toyota being a few players ....), which are likely to be operating commercially within 5 years, likely before level 5 autonomous cars, autonomous air operation being much easier than for cars they will quickly transition from piloted to autonomous operation. They use about the same energy per km of travel as cars (similar total drag) but are at least 10x faster. There are more than 20 well funded companies developing them around the world with prototypes already flying. They will eventually doom the high density high cost model that cities present because living in a rural village 100km from work will still only mean a 20minute commute, and we will no longer need to pay for expensive road infrastructure development.

They use about the same energy per km of travel as cars (similar total drag) but are at least 10x faster.

Unless someone's revoked some laws of physics lately, this is literally impossible.

Hi, I am a professional engineer who specialises in energy and fluid dynamics, with past experience in aerodynamic development and with friends and acquaintances who are working on VTOL air taxis in a project I have contributed to. I have a high degree of familiarity with the physics, engineering and economics of the field. And you are??

Me? I'm looking for some citations rather than an appeal to authority. Thanks!

Can you clarify your comment then. I suspect what mspace is getting at is a VTOL vehicle has to continually use energy to keep itself airborne, whereas a car doesn't.

So you are saying in a point to point test, a VTOL vehicle will use about the same energy per km to keep itself airborne and moving "forward" as a car?

Yes. Cars have a lift to drag around 15-20:1 (which basically defines the slope of the 'hill' that they would roll down at a given speed, and so do small VTOL aircraft that are effectively high speed gliders with VTOL lift nacelles. That means they use about the same energy per km of travel per kg of weight - equivalent to climbing by about 50-70m and then rolling down over the following 1 km, except that the car weighs 1500-2000kg and the vtol craft sized for 1 is likely to be ~500kg and travels a direct non-stop route rather than a circuitous stop-start route. For VTOL there is also few seconds of higher power use at takeoff and landing when at speeds below what is needed for the wings, but it doesn't amount to much.

So ultimately expect that the vtol craft will actually consume less energy per passenger for the same trip even though they average ~300km/hr vs ~30km/hr or worse (as crow flies) for an urban car ride.

I am an aero engineer that has a bit over 30 years experience in aircraft design, with a bunch of aircraft flying about that I have been the principal designer, configuration lead, or chief engineer. The idea is laughable that two vehicles of equal utility (payload volumes and weights equal) have the same weight where one is a VTOL aircraft and one is a standard vehicle. It is even more laughable to claim that the VTOL vehicle will be lighter. The ONLY way that the VTOL vehicle will be lighter is via sharply reducing the utility of the vehicle (reducing payload weight AND volume), and also to eliminate much of the safety aspects that people (and governments) would rightly expect in a transportation device. Airspace deconfliction would be a very challenging task if VTOL aircraft were ever to become more than a very rare toy for the wealthy.

And yes, I have some experience in designing VTOL vehicles (most experience is in VSTOL rather than VTOL). The Jetsons will be just a cartoon for a very long time, despite the money sucking people such as Moeller, who has made a very long and successful career (if duping investors is synonymous with successful) out of "developing" a VTOL vehicle ( amusing ref: )

For extra credit, evaluate the reaction in a typical neighborhood when one does bring in a VTOL vehicle. I'm pretty sure that 130+ dB will not be well received! Even the very low disc loading of a light heli is kinda noisy. Four highly loaded turbofans at 1.25g in the initial phase of the take-off, well... not gonna be quiet! The good news is that one gets rid of the annoying fall leaves for free!

Yeah, one of my office mates sneezes at 130+ dB (we estimate) and that's not well received at all.

No-one is going to be using million dollar turbo-fans. High power density, reliability and low cost redundancy of many electric powered props is superior, think paramotor type noise levels - noise of multiple props increases with square root of their number, so more smaller props=quieter. And then there are lift prop design choices that can reduce it even further. They will be noisy, but not out of line with the existing occasional loud noises in urban settings.

A 300 kph electric multi-rotor... maybe adequate if your goal is to have a 50 km useful range. The odds of that being available and utilized in five years is rather similar to me being hit by a meteor today. Note the caveats added, including single person, little or no extra payload (stuff like groceries, well, that is available on the extra deluxe model...). An electric powered multi-rotor solution that has enough capacity to carry even one person, along with the required safety equipment such as parachutes, airbags, etc. will not be light or cheap. BTW, that 15 or 20 to 1 L/D that you referenced earlier? How does this integrate with your lightweight multi-rotor that is usable in an urban environment? As an aside, the multi-rotor vehicle that I am currently working on has a single digit L/D... if only I could get the configuration to have a 15:1 L/D without paying a huge weight penalty... not going to happen unfortunately. Maybe in your world, parking spaces have 8-10 meters spacing for the wings, and there are materials with a much better strength to weight than the usual carbon composite structures. Five years until widespread usage? Tui billboard time...

lift props are only for VTOL portion of mission, otherwise crazy not to use wings. I agree that rotorcraft (including multirotor craft) have appalling L/D in 4-5 range (though record breaking boeing hummingbird achieved ~7 from memory), and electric rotorcraft can't hope to compete due to ~50km range and ~100km/hr cruise speed, made worse by lower capacity of high-discharge rate batteries. Ehang184 and Evolo Velocopter are examples of this doomed multicopter air-taxi approach. Whereas using transition to winged flight electric vtol motor-glider craft can have 300km range. With range extenders IC engines providing an option for longer range/endurance. Check out for some of what is going on (though most of the companies are in well funded 'stealth' mode, and don't need publicity so don't see how far advanced they really are.

Agreed, intelligently designed VTOL aircraft can get a 300 km range. I've yet to see a concept VTOL car that will have significant range as well as the features necessary to operate as both a car and a VTOL without being required to transit to an airport for flight operations. The additional accouterments required to make a vehicle both land and air capable tends to result in a vehicle that can do neither well. Adding VTOL requirements to the mix greatly reduces the odds of success. That said, I'd love to be proven wrong. So far, I've done a bit of consulting for a few companies, and what I've seen to date is reflected in my current opinion as to the viability of the concept(s). BTW, thanks for the weblink, hadn't seen that before.

Ah, maybe some miscommunication involved here, I'm not suggesting anything roadable here, or at best minimally roadable - like a ride on lawnmower, extra weight for wheels, steering and suspension etc is probably a bridge too far for vtol electric. (Though original Lillium concept was to be roadable). I am thinking more along the lines of roof-top or back-yard heliports. With more emphasis on adoption by people living outside urban boundaries to travel to urban jobs schools and shops with heliports.

Yeah, I took your comment at face value earlier about cars having a 15 or 20: L/D.

Once the safety and environmental issues get solved, then the next challenge comes up. There will be a bit of fun and challenge with the additional destination parking areas required for these VTOL aircraft. This requires advance city planning in large detail prior to any serious viability. Beyond the parking aspects, think of adding an order of magnitude to the helicopters that are over most major cities (Auckland doesn't currently fall into this category). A big annoyance is that the spot factor for your VTOL aircraft is considerably larger than that of the car that it is hopefully replacing. Also, the airspace deconfliction task would be enormous. I remember getting a heli ride in Sao Paulo, and your concept of straight point to point journey would not be practical with their solution to reduce midair risk. There were multiple one way aerial "streets" in Sao Paulo to mitigate the midair dangers involved so if you wanted to go to point b from point a, you had to zig zag your way there. Have to say, it was amazing as to how many helis were in the air at one time.

Interesting. I would guess that solution will be something along the lines of specifying a height and speed for every course and routing all traffic around lift-off/landing craft. So (eg) all North travelling aircraft travel at same height and velocity in parallel, swerving around planes landing or taking off.

But then I would also guess that if/when this tech becomes ubiquitous we are less likely to want to live in high density urban environments and high density aircraft flight will be less of an issue.

There is also a vast amount of volume above our heads. Eg auckland skies could probably manage whole population moving in an hour without anyone plane ever coming within 100m of another.

Cars are massively oversized for typical daily use. They mostly carry a 1 person payload of about 5% of their weight and 20% of their seating space. And a large part of their weight is for interior noise reduction and crash survival and fashion - big SUVs don't cost much more than compact vehicles to buy or operate.

VTOL electric craft will come in at about 20-30% payload mass fraction, and the obvious size to move to as air taxis and commuter vehicles is single person as minimises capital costs, weight and noise and suffers less from footprint limitations while maximising transport efficiency. Most companies are developing 3-5 person vehicles due to the need to use a pilot to satisfy regulators for early days, but many have stated intention to go for smaller vehicles when the market allows. Scale effects mean that recovery parachutes and airbags etc work faster on smaller craft too (if multiply redundant systems should fail).

Moller was a known shyster decades back, he is not relevant to what's going on now.

So are we going to see concrete delivered by VTOL? Or how about moving shipping containers, or other freight?

Probably not, I expect trucks will still operate for most goods delivery, though VTOL drone gliders can ultimately be more efficient and cost effective than trucks for some things and don't impose such high infrastructure costs. Humans present a much high value payload with far higher value in fast 'delivery'

Agreed, cars are massively oversized for single person usage. BTW, I would use a motorcycle or motorscooter as an appropriate comparison instead of a car if one posits a single person VTOL vehicle.

Also agreed, a large part of a land vehicles weight is due to safety and comfort related equipment and materials. I'm rather confident in stating that safety and comfort is going to be also required in a VTOL vehicle... so that weight comes gets added to the VTOL vehicle as well. Unfortunately, the growth factor on a VTOL vehicle is much larger than a wheeled vehicle. When I add 50 kg to a VTOL vehicle for a parachute, I have to add 25 kg more batteries, another 10 kg of additional structure to carry the parachute and batteries, the wing size goes up... on a wheeled vehicle, I add 50 kg of safety equipment, I add a few kg more for the structure to carry the safety equipment, and less than a kg of fuel. The design space is entirely different.

A ballistic parachute weighs ~3% of MTOW, so only need to increase MTOW about 10% to include it (given typical 20-30% payload fraction). Wings are much smaller and lighter than for GA aircraft due to sizing for efficient 300km/hr cruise rather than low speed landing and takeoff, and with higher cruise lift coefficients the wing G limits don't need to be as high (more like airliners in that regard - also gives smoother ride in turbulence). And can forego a lot of complexity like flaps and airbrakes and even some landing gear drag/bulk/complexity/weight.

Your example highlights the fun and games of the growth factor of a VTOL. Adding 1 kg of "stuff" adds more than 3 kg to the design weight. This rather large growth factor makes it difficult to close a viable VTOL design, especially once the design matures beyond the experimental aircraft stage. I agree, the wing does shrink a bit, although when one shrinks the wing, one ends up requiring the VTOL propulsion to increase in power so as to minimize any semi-ballistic trajectory aspects in the transition. The wing lift goes up as a function of V^2, and the thrust goes down as 1/V, so if the wing is sized for 300 kph, one needs to generate nearly 1g thrust at speeds on the order of ~150 kph to make a somewhat constant altitude transition to forward flight, which is a HUGE increase in power required as compared to what is needed for hover. Sometimes that larger wing, and/or high lift system ends up buying its way back on to the aircraft so as to minimize the GTOW. The noise factor is still important unless you are restricting ops to airports, which kinda defeats a lot of the CONOPS that have been put forward.

that depends a lot on if you are using a tilting wing/prop or independant auxiliary lift prop (more like a rotorcraft solution) - such as zee-aero and aurora are. The auxilliary lift prop approach means necessary lift power drops off as you increase in speed as wings provide increasing amount of lift, and lift rotors can be slowed. There is no need to accelerate quickly. Independent fore and aft nacelle mounted lift props make up as little as 10-15% of MTOW and in my opinion are likely to be the 'winning' configuration in the long run due to simplicity and redundancy. Alternatively variable pitch tilt-props that provide both lift and propulsion and that can tilt independently of the wings (Joby S4 V22 Osprey) give a similar steadily reducing power result like a helicopter but with far lower cruise power due to higher efficiency of wing lift.

Reducing propeller tip speed using high solidity rotors has very strong impact on noise generated (the shed vortex dynamic pressures are strongly linked to tip speeds). As does using many smaller props - as higher frequencies attenuate faster.

I strongly recommend doing a quick transition simulation. It is easy to do a 2d time step sim in excel, and you will gain some valuable information. One can either use some ct/cp curves vs advance ratio for a fixed pitch prop, or do a parametric efficiency model for a variable pitch prop (there are some other methods to parameterize the propulsion system, pick one). It is interesting to see how the assumption of fixed/separate propulsion systems optimize quite differently than tilt nacelle systems. Investigate a V22 style tilt rotor vs a tilt wing to better understand the optimization process for aero vs propulsion. It only takes a few hours to set up a simple sim for each of these options. I strongly recommend doing this so that you have a better understanding of the variables at play here. It will become rather apparent as to what happens when the wing loading gets high, the required propulsion power becomes higher unless one allows for sub 1g trajectories (not likely to be a viable choice for any but test pilots).

Interesting, wouldn't have thought it was a big issue, but then flight controls and aero propulsive stability issues are not my forte. I've seen a lot of videos of aircraft with this configuration transitioning - mostly amateur scale using off the shelf controllers, but that does not reveal how lift props are being modulated. This is not my day job - i am mostly just a very interested observer with some friends who are involved in one of the major development groups and i have helped them out with some peripheral build issues. I am still not clear on why there is a problem - is it to do to conflict between AOA of fixed wing and lift vector of prop in forward flight? If so then would pitching lift props slightly forward from vertical help (giving a slight nose up hovering pitch like most helicopters have)? Or is it the higher lift and drag from the advancing propeller blades that causes the big issue (which I can see could be a problem if you did not have a rigid variable pitch or variable speed prop to modulate the lift and drag down with increasing speed). Nice to learn new stuff :)

Thank you Yankiwi and Foyle

That was very interesting

This would be the appropriate car comparison

Much easier to switch to these for commuting, especially once automated.

ive always want a flying car... but seriously what are the problems with air traffic control or rather public air traffic control in urban areas?

So you think 22 million autonomous vehicles can fit on Tokyo's roads during peak time?
Autonomous vehicles might make sense in smaller cities, but in big cities the same issues with a lack of road space will apply. Its hard to know which category Auckland fits into. Most other NZ cities will probably have no need for PT.

So you think 22 million autonomous vehicles can fit on Tokyo's roads during peak time?
Autonomous vehicles might make sense in smaller cities, but in big cities the same issues with a lack of road space will apply. Its hard to know which category Auckland fits into. Most other NZ cities will probably have no need for PT.

Stupid question when most Japanese commuters are using more cost-effective train and underground subway systems that are often paid for by their employer (in the case of full-time workers).

It's very easy to work out which category Auckland fits in to. The Unitary Plan is six separated urban areas, with aggressive expanding growth from 5 small exurban areas and extremely restrictive anti-growth boundaries placed on the area of greatest population (Auckland City). The planned design of Auckland will require less public transport and more private transport.

Other the the VTOL your damn right on the rest. Large scale infrastructure builds will take longer to complete than the autonomous revolution.

The question we need to ask is who should own the transport. Let's be honest, there will be only two major market players once this all shakes out and a third minor player. Do we want another duopoly to screw us, the consumer? Do we want to own our own transport via central or local government? Will this ensure sufficient price competition even if our solution is the minor player?

Finding optimal locations to charge/rest sets of 10,000 autonomous vehicles to maximise fleet efficienty will also be important. That much space (and multiple locations for a city like Auckland) won't be easy to find and needs to be earmarked early on so the reading infrastructure around such facilities can be made as efficient as possible.

Not true it will be a diverse eco-system given teh incredible several trillion dollar per year size of the 100million vehicle per year global auto industry that already has multiple huge players (Toyota and VAG being biggest at 10million cars per year each), that can all afford to develop their own systems.

Most likely they will all be buying in autonomy systems tech from specialist OEM Teir1 suppliers like Bosch, Google waymo, Baidu, Nvidia, possibly Tesla when they transition to a teir1 supplier after (most likely) losing their electric car market to bigger players.

Yes there are multiple manufacturers, yes they can develop their own system, but will the market support multiple service providers?

Look at other services such as streaming video streaming
- Netflix 70 million
- Hulu 9 million
- HBO 1 million
- Amazon - unknown as it's bundled with other services - lets assume 10 million

So out of a market of approx 100 million users, one company controls 70% of the market.

Lets look at a physical product tied to a service this time - say cell phones
- Android 71.42%
- Apple 19.95%

If the transportation as a service is similar - say one company gets 60%, the other next biggest gets 30%, that leaves all the other manufacturers fighting for just 10% of that market. With such a small share of the market it will not be viable for many manufacturers and they'll slowly shrink then die.

Maybe it'll go the way of cell phones, one major manufacturer on their own platform and the rest pool together into a single ecosystem? With a few outlines trying to go alone but ultimately failing.

Either way it's arms race and the vehicle manufacturers know it.

Who can get autonomous vehicle on to the market fast enough?
Who can transform transportation into a highly efficient service?
Who can scale quickly enough to capture maximum market share?
Who has the money/can raise the money to scale quickly?

Transportation as a service greatly changes the landscape as the user is no longer the vehicle owner. This means someone has to front up them money until there is a positive return on investment.

Do the manufacturers have enough funds to own their own fleets, globally/internationally?
Will they try and partner with other private enterprises or governments?
Will debt be cheap enough they'll just borrow their way to market dominance.
Are they stupid enough to sick with their existing sales model and watch themselves become obsolete?

With an positive ROI within 2-3 years (at $0.35 per km) for each autonomous vehicle in use, any company trying to grab market share only needs to float the costs for a short amount of time. With the payback period being so short I can see a few companies debt loading into the trillions to get market share. The race is on.

It is fundamentally different to monopoly-through-familiarity of smartphones and computers and monopoly-through-exclusivity of content of Netflix, because your bum does not care whether the autonomous systems software was provided by Bosch or Google. Much like you don't know or care if your current car's engine management system is provided by Bosch or Delphi, what is going on under the hood, and the style in which it solves it's problems involves almost zero interaction with the passenger.

I also have strong doubts about the transport as service model taking over, sure it will exist and likely grow for commuters (but not that much, commuter 'taxis' will probably only be able to average 2-3 return trips per day due to high-peaking demand in morning and evening, and empty cars travelling back from city to suburbs for additional pickups actually increase number of cars on road during rushhours), but convenience of storing your shit in the car, kids car seats, wet weather gear, phone charger, makeup, umbrella, water bottle, snacks, shopping bags, dog toys, recreational toys, gym gear... is pretty major.

The Ak Council want new apartment complexes to have either minimal or no car parking. How short sighted is this! No ability to plug in for electric charging. No parking spots for autonomous cars....
Slums in the making....

Surely when we have autonomous cars there would be no need to own a car. Autonomous taxis will be very cheap.
Why force people to build car spaces that will probably be obsolete in 20 years time.

Because the apartment block is developed for the preference of the first customer and those people want a car space or two - ie. they don't want to have to wait 20 years for an auto taxi. But since this is the same council that has spent the last 8 years shoving up the cost of Auckland land and making it too expensive to build apartments, it comes as no surprise that they are always trying to make apartment construction even less profitable.

By the time the apartment has completed construction, autonomous cars will already be in the market.

Sounds good, walk to the local transport depot, bus stop, train station etc. for longer trips, take a bike for short trips, take a taxi if needed for the supermarket run.
Lets remember that cars have only been around a short time (100 years) and people travelled the world without them without too much trouble.

The next transport disruption will be town/city planning.

The segment on autonomous cars being a last mile solution is laughable. It's not what people want, it's why public transport doesn't appeal to so many.

Ask people what they want in transport. Walk out of their door in the moring, get in a vehicle and be dropped of right in front of their destination. This is why the car is so popular. It's just inefficient.

But going from door to autonomous car to train station to train to train station to autonomous car to destination is not what people want and is also not efficient from the passengers perspective.

The future is tiered autonomous transport, door to destination. If you are cheap you'll have the option of a shared service in a minivan type vehicle that will deliver you door to destination, but will pickup/drop off other passengers along the way. All highly optimised by software to ensure maximum efficiency.

If you value privacy/safety you will be able to pay more to travel solo/just with your family. But again it'll be a direct door to destination experience.

Im sure some of our political minds are well aware of the future, but are happy to keep their mouths shut when it's not a political issue. You don't want to scare away all the taxi driver, truck driver, petrol station working voter base if you don't have too.

Not everyone wants to be dropped door to door anymore. People are starting to value exercise, walking and seeing other people. I think your values are a bit outdated.
New Zealand is well behind other countries in terms of transportation. Having lived overseas I much preferred taking decent public transport than I do driving here. I'm not alone, ask anyone who has lived in London / NY / Tokyo / etc.

Nope; it's you that is outdated, seeing the options only as public transport vs. driving. Before too long there will be the option of summoning to wherever you are, a car which you don't have to drive and you don't have to find somewhere to park.

You want to walk part of the journey? Absolutely fine; just get the car to drop you off a km or so short of your destination.

That already exists it's called uber, I use it all the time. The only difference is that it will be cheaper. It will still get stuck in traffic like they do today. And do you think they will have a million of these cars sitting around Auckland just to be used at peak ? Off peak yes they will be great. On peak we will most likely still need rapid public transport in bigger cities.

Where is everyone driving from and to? The assumption seems to be locked in that there will still be the same scale of commuting to from work places or schools as today?

The time of the sentient general purpose drone approaches.

Good point, like a lot of people I work from a home office and can easily walk to our local super market. So recently I sold my car, I simply didn't use it enough to justify the money I had tied up in it or the on going cost (maintenance, insurance, etc.).