Transportation is a broad user of video and presence technologies, and are included in the requirements of the solutions discussed in this article.
Mountain View, CA
No Good Option Denied
Podcar City 9 that took place in Mountain View on November 5-6, 2015 showcased a lot of cool technology. This is worth repeating: a lot, yes; cool, yes; technology, yes. But technology is not the issue, and cool is not the goal. The issue is to make sure commuters and travelers have all the best transportation options available to them. The incumbent dominant option is of course the car, boosted by the promises of autonomous driving. Another highly efficient urban option, but little known and widely overlooked even by urban/transportation planners, is the category called ATN/PRT (automatic transit network, and personal rapid transit). Spoiler alert: can you imagine levitating through Mountain View up to 75 mph?
Those who find that congestion in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area is bad and getting worse, are validated by the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, a comprehensive analysis of traffic conditions on 1.3 million miles of urban streets in 471 urban areas. (This is the the last year this study is available free-of-charge.) Unfortunately for California, Metropolitan Los Angeles and San Francisco-Oakland are respectively the 2nd and 3rd most congested areas – respectively with 82 and 78 hours of yearly delay per auto commuter (representing $1,834 and $1,711 in congestion cost per auto commuter).
And things are going to get worse. Rod Diridon, Sr. Emeritus Executive Director at the Mineta Transportation Institute, reminds us that California expects an increase of 25 million additional inhabitants in the next 30 years. Can our streets and highways grow to accommodate? And, Diridon adds: the first and last mile challenge is still confounding experts and planners; and all transportation solutions must be viable, safe, and comfortable. How many more bikes, taxis, Uber cars, will it take?
But really, says Princeton Operations Research & Financial Engineering Professor Alain Kornhauser, Transportation Program Director, the big issue all along is safety. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) reports that car crashes cost the U.S. $2,800/person, $871 billion/year. Humans are in fact getting worse at it, while autonomous cars are improving. And of course vehicles on elevated tracks have never had a single crash.
Join the Conversation
Matthew Lesh, Sr. Analyst, Mobility & Transportation Systems at Noblis, has worked the past 12 years at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, overseeing research in: intelligent vehicles, intelligent infrastructure, creation of an intelligent transportation system, and integration between components.
Lesh has found major changes shaping the future of our transportation system. Not only is the U.S. population growing, but our demographics is changing drastically. From 2005 to 2020 there will be 30 million more Americans over age 60. Habits and preferences are changing as well, with public transit ridership reaching the highest level since the 1950s. Younger generations want choice; they want both convenience and cost savings. Among Millenials, 66% consider transportation alongside housing decisions. Beside the old and the young, other Americans want more options as well, such as: veterans and travelers with disabilities, low income individuals and minors.
Meanwhile a plethora of new developments has brought about a Wild Wild West of Transportation. Consider:
- Google developing autonomous car
- Avis Budget Group purchasing Zipcar
- Uber providing ad hoc delivery services
- Ford developing foldable electric bike
- Daimler buying Car2Go and RideScout
- RideScout buying GlobeSherpa
- And much more…
Looking out into the future, Lesh sees four scenarios that build on one another, based on progressive and proactive policies:
Scenario #1 — Status Quo
- Continued Congestion
- Failing Infrastructure
- Disjointed Policy
- Persistent Financial Challenges
Scenario #2 — Integrated Transit
- Integrated Payment Systems
- Bikeshare, Carshare, Transit Coordination
- Competing Business Models
- Some Transit Prioritization
Scenario #3 — Connected Mobility
- Demand Response Transit
- Connected, Smart Transportation
- Situational Mobility
- Infrastructure Optimization
Scenarios #4 — Automated & Connected
- Vehicle Automation
- Progressive Land Use Design
- Ubiquitous Data
- Advanced Integrated Mobility Services
Gwo-Wei Torng, Director of the Office of Mobility Innovation at the Federal Transit Administration, thinks that the traditional measure based on “ridership” is siloed and tilted. In the final count, travelers only care that their mobility needs are met. Therefore better, more traveler-centric measures would be: connectivity, choices, and mobility/agility.
What do you think the future of mobility looks like, or should look like in 2045? Join the conversation hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation:
PRT (personal rapid transit) is not a new concept. The attraction and promises of PRT are that, thanks to the use of modern technologies – computing technologies, communication technologies, and power electronics – travelers can be transported from end‑point to end‑point with no stop, on‑demand at any time, at pretty much constant and predictable speed. More like taking the elevator than waiting in traffic. And also more private and personal than, say on buses that are either bursting full or traveling empty of passenger. Systems already in operation include: Morgantown PRT at West Virginia University (in operation since 1975), Rivium Business Park GRT in Holland (1999), Masdar PRT in Abu Dhabi (2010), BAA Heathrow PRT in London (2011), Suncheon SkyCube in Korea (2013).
Newer systems now bring further improvements such as small lightweight inexpensive electric vehicles, and modular solar-powered tracks. And in North Carolina and South Carolina, the latest designs feature autonomous vehicles that travel both on private ground at destinations, or on raised tracks along public roadways.
At North Carolina State University, Author and Entrepreneur Marshall Brain (Founder of HowStuffWorks) and Mechanical Engineering Professor Seth Hollar (who claims to have built the smallest robot ever), leverage rapidly dropping costs of sensors and manufacturing to build very small and light PRT vehicles to save both space and costs. So their 2-person EcoPRT vehicle weighs less that 1,000 lbs for a 3 x 5.5 feet footprint, and costs less than $10,000. In comparison, a typical car weighs 3,600 lbs for a 6 x 5 feet footprint, a bus 32,000 lbs for 8.5 x 9.5 feet, and a light rail car 100,000 lbs for 9 x 11 feet. So the EcoPRT guideway costs only about $1 million/mile to build, as compared to $100 million/mile to build a subway track.
The upshot is that it becomes possible to entrepreneurially raise capital to deploy a private local PRT network, and profitably charge fares under the 57 cents/mile claimable for reimbursement under federal guidelines. With the EcoPRT vehicles traveling at an uninterrupted 35-45 mph, they represent a very compelling mobility option.
The small EcoPRT footprint eases the acquisition of right of way. And the light vehicle weight maximizes the flexibility of whether to leverage an elevated guideway or to use an existing roadway as a low-cost seeding option. After that, market forces will dictate further expansions. Brain and Hollar aim to start initially with the university, and then cover the surrounding areas of Downtown Raleigh, Cary, and North Hills.
Meanwhile in South Carolina, the Greenville County Economic Development Corporation (GCEDC) chaired by Greenville County Councilman Fred Payne is planning a public-private partnership to develop a 20+ mile elevated rapid transit system to connect major attractor locations in high-traffic corridors. The aim is to promote, around multi-modal mobility hubs, GreenVillages developments as attractive areas to live, work, shop, dine, and play. GCEDC envisions that by 2018, small podcars will transport passengers rapidly and safely from Downtown Greenville along the GCEDC owned corridor through the Verdae planned community and Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research, as well as along other urban corridors to the County’s largest hospitals, Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, and major corporate sites like Michelin, ScanSource, and BMW.
Bay Area Options
Summer 2016, Stantec will deploy a couple of CSAV (connected shared autonomous vehicles) as first mile and last mile solution for Bishop Ranch office park in San Ramon, CA. The self-driving 9 x 13 CSAV is powered by a lithium-ion battery (up to 14 hours of operation), and can transport a payload of 3,744 lbs including 6 seated and 6 standing passengers. Software functionality includes: obstacle detection, navigation, path planning and control, V2V and V2I connectivity, fleet management, safety and cybersecurity, and multi-sensor localization.
In a typical last mile (outbound request) scenario, a passenger on BART would request a CSAV at the station ahead of time on his/her smartphone. S/he receives in return the CSAV fleet ID number, and docking station number. Passengers without smartphone can use a console or a kiosk provided at the station.
Stantec Sr. Principal Koorosh Olyai says that there are no regulatory barriers, as the CSAV will strictly travel within private premises. The three big questions to address are: enforcement (who is responsible in case of an accident or a traffic ticket), insurance (who needs to have insurance), and spectrum (who gets allocated).
Across the Bay, at NASA Research Park, Moffett Field, CA is skyTran, founded by aeronautic and automotive veteran Doug Malewicki. Dr. Robert Baertsch, skyTran Chief Scientist, explains that a viable PRT must provide all the features and benefits popular with cars, without any of the detriments (since cars provide 95% of human transportation). And the PRT must be low-cost without subsidies. A successful PRT must travel faster than a car (i.e. 75 mph as people are not able to drive safely beyond that speed), is cheaper, and is more attractive to investors.
Design constraints – low noise, diffused point loading, light infrastructure and maintenance, low cost, high speed switching – dictate that skyTran use magnetic levitation instead of wheels. But traditional maglev solutions, Indutrack and Transrapid, are too expensive and have too many control issues. And so skyTran had to develop its own maglev technology, STMLsm (skyTran mag lev):
- simple aluminum rail with steel support
- high compliance
- fly over sagging guideway at level flight
- high speed switching (1.25 second spacing)
- 5 second spacing on guideway
- no power in guideway
STMLsm uses magnetic wings positioned at an angle to create lift from Eddy currents (like a lift fin of a submarine under water). Propulsion is generated by spinning spiral-oriented magnets.
Since hardware safety systems are easy to understand – software certification is complex and time consuming – skyTran uses hardware systems for safety, and software systems for optimization. The company plans on two vehicle sizes: 4‑passenger for airport use, and 2‑passenger for urban transport; the guideway is unchanged. The vehicle accelerates at 1/3 to 1/2 G, consumes 100 watt‑hour/mile, and is flash charged at the station.
skyTran received funding from Eric Schmidt in June 2015, so further funding from Google is a clear possibility. It is planning its first flight in January 2016: 200‑meter track, full‑size vehicle, full payload, 40 mph speed.
With so much innovation, who would settle for fewer options? Happy travels, safe mobility.
Hong lives and works in Silicon Valley. At Video Technology Magazine, he covers the intersection of technology and energy, transportation, and the environment.