In the middle of Helsinki Airport there is an installation and relaxation area called Aukio. The walls are covered in a 360 LED screen that shows Finnish countryside landscapes, while large speakers play the sounds of birds, rippling streams and whispering winds.
Scenes cycle slowly through the stations and there are always passengers wandering silently – stopping to relax on plush benches, recharge phones, grab a snack or just enjoy the peace.
And the day the last internal combustion engine leaves the capital, so will London, explains Stuart Masson, founder of electric vehicle website The Car Expert.
“Cars, trucks and taxis are noisy and smelly,” he points out. “The air will smell clean when they’re gone, you won’t hear the roar of the engines. You will actually hear a nightingale sing in Berkeley Square.”
That kind of air quality will mean a healthier city – stopping the damage to children’s lungs, preventing nearly 2,000 heart attacks a year, and reducing lung cancer in the city by nearly 10%.
As the future of electric vehicles becomes a reality, groups of architects, technologists and urban planners are taking advantage of the changes made possible by the end of oil to envision a new kind of London.
While designer Camille Walala has drawn up plans for a car-free Oxford Street filled with trees, plants and fountains, some architects are suggesting an even more radical approach.
EVs aren’t just a new engine in the same old vehicle, explains Kirsty Dias, managing director at design consultancy PriestmanGoode. They are part of a wave of new technologies, from autonomous vehicles to electric scooters and drones, all coming to a street near you soon.
The Civil Aviation Authority is already experimenting with electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) planes that can act as shuttles between London airports, while Heathrow is working with British startup Vertical on running four-passenger electric air taxis in the coming years. , able to reach the city in 12 minutes.
Las Vegas and Zurich are considering underground tunnel systems where automated delivery cars buzz goods beneath the surface without emitting smoke, while British startup Urban-Air Port is proposing to use drones as taxis, transporting passengers between rooftops in the heart of London.
If aerial drones sound a little alarming, German start-up Vay, launched in Hamburg this year, has applied the remote-control aspect of the technology to something it calls tele-driving.
“We have remotely seated drivers who drive cars using 360 cameras,” explains Thomas von der Ohe, co-founder and CEO of Vay. “You click a button on the app, the vehicle comes to you, you get in and take control and drive wherever you want. When you’re done, just go out and drop it off and we can take it to the next customer. That means you can drive an SUV when you need to and then switch to a sports car without the cost of buying the vehicles.”
PriestmanGoode is already working with Brightline, a US rail company born out of a real estate development company, which seeks to reduce passengers’ dependence on gasoline cars. Brightline’s first class passengers are picked up and returned home in a Tesla, while standard class passengers can choose from shared cars, minibuses or company bikes.
“If you’re heading back to Tunbridge Wells, the journey home from the station becomes a much more attractive proposition than the traffic jam in the parking lot,” she points out.
All these new technologies are coming into play at a time of great change for the transportation industry. Rather than just being about how we travel, thanks to new technologies like internet shopping and video conferencing, there is also a fundamental shift in why we travel.
“The trip used to be to go to work, shop or visit people,” explains Dias. “People don’t have to do it all in the same way anymore.”
“London has adapted the old horse trails and paths into roads, but in the future, you can enter your building from an eVTOL or drone, deliveries can arrive through underground tunnels. Suddenly, the design of the city needs to change. We can prioritize and encourage walking for short trips, encouraging the old flâneur joy of seeing your city at ease and bumping into people by chance.”
London will need to become a smart city – combining internet of things technology with a low power wide area network (LPWA) Wi-Fi
To maximize the potential of new technologies, according to Jeff Desjardins, editor-in-chief of Visual Capitalist, London will need to become a smart city – combining internet of things technology with a low-power Wi-Fi wide area network (LPWA) .
This would mean connected cars could communicate with parking meters and electric vehicle charging docks to guide drivers to the nearest available location. Smartphones include your driver’s license and digital credentials. Connected traffic lights would receive data from sensors and cars to respond to traffic in real time, reducing congestion on roads. And utilities — like smart dumpsters — would send data to councils to organize collection or repairs to cause minimal disruption.
As demand for charging space intensifies, buses may need to adapt, argues Simon Williams, an electric vehicle spokesperson for RAC. He expects overhead charging lines for buses – effectively a return to the tram – and future cars and trucks that can take advantage of the lines to avoid charging bays.
For designer Thomas Heatherwick, the most important thing for imagining this city of the future is “to increase our emotional intelligence about how things will affect us”.
His current work at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, involves solar panels and batteries that go into the ground as heat pumps so the building captures 90% of its electricity from the surrounding environment.
It’s forward-thinking ideas like this that will enable our cities to make a paradigm shift towards truly green spaces. “For a long time, cities were controlled by people who followed a crude logic of operation”, he explains.
“Cities now have a different role – the best place to come together. The wonderful thing about us humans is the energy and ideas that cannot happen when you are apart from each other. That means London needs to inspire you and that is the most important next step.”
To learn more about the ES campaign for electric cars visit standard.co.uk/plugitin