Have you ever imagined what it would be like to have car-free roads in Gibraltar? Here’s a man who can help.
Gibraltarian software developer Chris Harris is developing a program that uses artificial intelligence to visualise a world without cars.
This is a personal project and it is in the early, experimental stages of development.
He uses pre-recorded video to create an augmented reality in which vehicles are rubbed out and replaced with outdoor views, providing glitchy, yet tantalising images of empty roads that are, in fact, heaving with traffic.
And while the software will not get rid of cars and other vehicles in the real world, it could encourage others to imagine what a cleaner, quieter environment might look like.
In the long term, it could also help as a visual tool for planners tasked with making difficult decisions about traffic management.
Mr Harris decided to conduct this experiment and develop the software for both personal and environmental reasons.
“It’s no secret that we are in a pretty dire environmental situation and there are a lot of activists that are starting to campaign and rise up about this, such as Extinction Rebellion in the UK,” he said.
“I just think the amount of cars we have in general, especially in Gibraltar, is completely unnecessary.”
“It is unnecessary from an environmental point of view but also for me, personally, I would much prefer if they weren’t there.”
Walking down many roads in Gibraltar, especially key thoroughfares such as Devil’s Tower Road, can be unpleasant, with cars, trucks and motorbikes belching fumes, dust and noise.
Mr Harris said that friends who have visited have compared Gibraltar to other towns known for high levels of pollution and have complained that the environment is much worse here, with sinus and allergies flaring up.
“It is particularly dire here,” he said.
In order for Mr Harris to take the experiment further, he would need more resources, expensive hardware and development time.
“This is really just the first step in the road,” he said.
“Long term it might be more useful for planning rather than for personal use, for example by augmenting scenes and bird’s-eye plans with more ecologically-minded infrastructure, whether that is trees, bicycle lanes or better use of roads for pedestrians or re-wilding.”
“It’s about using imagination, but also informed planning of what Gibraltar could look like if it was more pedestrian friendly.”
“That is a long, long way away and I would need the resources to get there, so this is just about saying, ‘hey, this is what things could be like’.”
Because the product is not yet finished he believes the feedback he has received has been less critical.
“They are more ‘I can empathise with this attempt’,” he said.
In addition, people “identify with the struggle of what is happening. It’s not quite working, what am I seeing?” he added.
His first raw efforts were posted on YouTube and were picked up by the specialist publication The Verge, which examines how technology will change life in the future.
As of yesterday, the video had been viewed nearly 23,000 times.
Pic by Johnny Bugeja