The shape of things to come was revealed on 16 December as two 16-year-olds won the Transport Systems Catapult’s “Pods of the Future” schools design competition.

Denzel Onyango and Jamie Williams, who both study at Denbigh School in Milton Keynes, were named as the competition winners following an evening judging event at the TSC’s Imovation Centre.

The competition was open to all Year 12 students in the Milton Keynes catchment area, who were challenged to come up with designs of how self-driving vehicles might look in the year 2025.

Ten finalists were invited to present their designs in front of a judging panel comprising members of the TSC’s Automated Transport Systems (ATS) business unit, all of whom are currently working on the real-life self-driving pods that are due to be trialled next year on the footpaths of Milton Keynes.

An impressive variety of designs were presented, including a cylindrical pod with wheels that rotate around a gyroscope-controlled static centre-frame, a vehicle with hydraulic wheel-struts that would allow it to clear small obstacles and a playful “Moo-Kar” with black solar panels shaped to resemble cow hide – in reference to Milton Keynes’ famous Concrete Cow statues.

Getting personal

Described by Denzel and Jamie as “the birth of two crazy engineers/designers”, the winning entry was an aerodynamic, high-tech design concept that would allow passengers to personalise the vehicle’s colour, light settings and entertainment systems via their smart phone. The two-person pod would also run on a special track made up of solar panels that could both power the vehicles and be used to display informational graphics.

“It definitely helped working as a pair on this project,” Jamie said after he and Denzel had picked up the winners’ trophy. “It meant we could bounce a lot of ideas off each other, including a lot of ideas that we threw out early on.

“We really wanted to come with something that was different and didn’t just feel like any other form of public transport that 20 other people have sat in before you.”

Work experience

As well as winning the “Pods of the Future” trophy, Denzel and Jamie will now have the opportunity to join the ATS team for a week-long work experience placement next year – potentially bringing some of their future visions to bear on the current versions of driverless technology.

“It may still be a few decades away, but we see driverless vehicles as the future of personal transport, so it’s been really great to see how all the students here have embraced the spirit of the competition,” said ATS programme director Neil Fulton.

“It was clear that a lot of effort went into the designs and that there was a really good understanding of the brief. And hopefully, by 2025, we’ll have made the technological advances to ensure that some of the features presented tonight can really be implemented in the pods of the future.”


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