Jordan Aw is currently a second year undergraduate reading MEng in Civil Engineering at Imperial College London. This personal statement was part of his successful application to Imperial College London, University of Leeds, University of Bath, University of Southampton and University of Sheffield for Civil Engineering.
When Elon Musk caused a media firestorm in August 2013 with the announcement of the Hyperloop concept- a new mode of high speed transportation via tubes containing just a thousandth of the air pressure at sea level- I realised that we are in the middle of a revolution in the world of transportation. Space travel is no longer exclusively state-sponsored; a market is already slowly emerging for commercial space travel. Hyperloop companies are already here, and are doing public tests, each time with something new to offer. Car manufacturers project that they’ll be ready to mass-produce self-driving cars within five years. My fascination with this “revolution” eventually grew to the point where I made the conscious decision to get involved, and I decided on civil engineering.
It soon became clear to me that such a significant shift meant that current infrastructure would be insufficient. While researching this in the context of autonomous cars, I discovered the idea-and limited reality-of machine perception, the capability of a machine to understand data in the way humans understand stimuli. However, reliance on solely the computer’s ability to interpret data correctly would lead to the same problem that human drivers have: there are just too many factors to fully recognise. Would a machine be able to recognise children playing by the road, and slow down because it knows they might run onto the street? To existing software, humans just look like columns of pixels. This possible over-reliance is why I believe that we need to consider how our roads convey information to computers as well.
Growing up outside the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, I recognise that our public transport systems are lacking. Outside KL, there are no rail systems except the outdated intercity trains. However, even with KL’s comprehensive train services and buses, traffic jams still cost Malaysia RM20 billion in 2014, according to the World Bank. Intrigued by this apparent paradox, further research led me to an article by Renne, which discussed the idea of transit-oriented development (TOD) and networked livable communities. The statistics showed a clear picture of the benefits of developing a community around a comprehensive transport system, instead of the reverse, with residents of TODs spending a significantly lower percentage of their income on housing and transport. These are ideas that I am extremely interested in seeing implemented in Malaysia, with most of its cities and towns being relatively underdeveloped.
While researching California’s high-speed rail system, I was struck by the amount of controversy surrounding it. The constantly increasing costs and the revelation that the California High-Speed Rail Authority had downplayed the initial estimates came across as particularly dishonest. As public unrest increased, the political opposition to the project gained more and more traction, as evidenced by the successful lawsuit which undermined its funding. I found it similar to Malaysia’s 1MDB, a state-sponsored development company revealed to be massively corrupt. I realised that Malaysia would face the same problems and that political engagement is important.
Outside the classroom, I am Director of Community Service for my school’s Leo Club, organising visits to a local orphanage, old folks’ home, and beach clean-ups. I also participated in a 24 hour run to raise funds for charities dedicated to helping victims of human trafficking. My team raised over RM5000, the third highest amount raised for the event. I am a member of my school’s debating team and have competed in various local and national events, winning the national championships in 2016. To widen my scope, I joined my school’s press team for which I write and edit a bimonthly newsletter.
I believe the role of the civil engineer is an exciting one in a developing country like my own, and that getting a degree from a top UK university would be a major step towards fulfilling my goals.
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