Tag Archives: Electric Transport

Can Derby be sustainable by 2030?

This post addresses a important question – how can we make our cities sustainable? It is a really tough question for most cities, because the private car is central to life and each car uses large amounts of energy.

The subject is Derby in the UK, my home city. It shows how technology could allow the city to become sustainable and provide dramatic lifestyle improvements.P102079320141218 Derby Traffic Street correctedThe picture on the left is Derby in 2014. The sketch on the right is the same junction in 2030. What is the difference?

The photo shows the extent to which private cars are dominating the city. The road junction is wide and hard to cross. The pavements are noisy. The area beyond is a car park. This street is actually called Traffic Street.

In the sketch on the right, transport energy use is well under 25% of the 2014 picture. The vehicles are mainly electric buses, each replacing many cars. The smaller vehicles are mainly driverless electric taxis, most of which are also carrying more than one person. Whenever a person needs transport they tell their smart phone. A central computer then offers options for the journey, sharing transport wherever possible to cut costs and energy use.

Shared transport is the key to energy reduction. A car with 4 people uses little more energy than a car with one person, so that energy use per person is cut dramatically. Buses enable even greater savings.

In 2030 the private car has become a luxury item rather than an essential part of life. All journeys can be made using buses and taxis. Some transport is still manned, but driverless technology offers significant cost reductions and is often preferred. Technology is used to ensure that shared transport offers personal security.

The number of people travelling is greater than in 2014, but there are fewer vehicles and the roads have been shrunk. There is now space for cafes and cycle-ways. Parks have been introduced to replace hard surfaces and make drainage more sustainable.  The car park has been replaced by shops, offices and homes. The vehicles are travelling at a lower speed, quietly and without fumes. Journey times are faster because there is no congestion. The vehicles are communicating and adjusting their speeds to reduce the need to stop and wait at junctions.The city has been reclaimed for its people, and is far more prosperous. Traffic Street has become People Street.

The sketch below shows an old district, full of terraced housing. Some of the streets have been given glass roofs to allow easy walking, cycling and shopping. This is possible because there are no fumes with electric buses and cars. Water is collected from these roofs and used for watering the city parks

20141218 Derby Street corrected

The roof also reduces the heating requirement in the shops and nearby homes. The row of cars are driverless taxis, sitting on induction loops and recharging between trips. They can be called from any mobile phone. Few people own a private car because the narrow streets have no personal parking spaces so recharging is inconvenient. The driverless taxis simply go to the nearest charging area as required.

In summary, Derby is sustainable because it has reduced its energy requirements to be within the capacity of sustainable energy sources.

I have entered this post in the Masdar 2015 Engage blogging contest. That is one reason why it looks at 2030 rather than 2050 as usual. 2030 also makes sense because rapid reductions in carbon emissions are required to avert dangerous climate change.

 

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Will Robot Bikes bring home the bacon?

The robot bikes arrive!
The robot bikes arrive!

This post looks at the rather crazy sounding idea of robot bikes, with no rider. They are however technically feasible given the rate of advance in computing and would have many convenience, cost, and environmental advantages. As usual I’ve tried to liven the technical stuff up with a story.

Chloe has thrown a surprise barbecue. Some friends just called to say that they were in the area and since it is a nice day she suggested a barbecue. She lives in the country, twenty minutes from the nearest butcher. She called the butcher an hour ago and they promised to deliver.

The robot bike has just arrived. She unloads the meat while her partner fires up the barbecue. A second bike arrives with the bread, salad and drinks.

These bikes have no rider and navigate the narrow country lanes at safe speeds. They do not need to go fast because they carry no driver charging time by the hour. They can cope with potholes and if they need to stop they simply put their feet on the ground. They are electrically powered, and because they are so light (the heaviest thing on a bike is normally the rider), they use little energy to get up hills. Their energy consumption is around one tenth of that used by an electric car, which is itself much more energy efficient than a diesel. They are the lowest cost way to deliver goods.

In 2050 they are common. They have transformed some parts of the world, notably Africa, by their ability to deliver drugs, food, and equipment across rough roads using only locally generated solar power to recharge their batteries. There are many cities around the world where the roads are simply too small and crowded for cars and vans, and where these robot bikes  are much easier to accommodate.

Why can’t this happen now? Obviously self-driving cars are becoming available. Robot bikes are a further technical challenge but they can be built. A Chinese company is starting their development and some US companies are looking at them for military applications.

Can Driverless Cars cut journey times?

A Self Driving City Car
A Self Driving City Car

My last post looked at how driverless cars will benefit the disabled. This post looks their wider benefits.

Driverless cars will be ideally suited to small cities and towns. They will permit a fast low energy transport system without the heavy investment required to build a  subway, a tram system, or new roads.

Most cars will be owned by the local community and will be picked up from parking areas when needed. Electronic personal assistants will show users where the nearest available car is parked. The battery powered cars will be recharged when they are parked via inductive loops in the road. There will be no need for wires to be connected. If a car does not have adequate charge for the requested journey the user will be directed to another. The frequent charging points will mean that a large battery is not required, reducing weight and the resources involved in battery manufacture.

The cars will be activated by voice, keypad, or card. Electronic personal assistants will also be able to direct the cars. Customers will be automatically charged for each journey.

Privately owned cars will also have a self-drive capability by 2050, which will be used when they are in towns.

The cars will travel relatively slowly in town, but nevertheless journey times will be shorter than existing cars because they will talk to a central computer and, for example, select their route and schedule their arrival at junctions so that they do not need to stop. A further speed benefit is that there will be no need to waste time seeking a parking spot.

Once they are underway they will be able to group together to form trains, so that they take less road space in towns and have lower wind resistance, just like road racing cycles. They will be able to do this because they will communicate, telling each other of hazards ahead. Each car will be continually monitored and will be taken out of service at the first warning of any fault.

Accidents will be rare. The sensors on these cars will never tire or be distracted. They will detect cyclists and pedestrians and take action to avoid them if required. The cars will always drive at a safe speed. They will talk to each other to avoid misunderstandings.

Cars will be lightweight with no need for seat belts, airbags, or crumple zones because accidents will be so rare. Engines will be relatively small because the cars rarely need to accelerate and because the lightweight cars will not need much power to climb hills. There will be no need for a steering wheel, dashboard, windscreen wipers and mirrors.

Inside the car arrangements will vary depending on design. I think it would be good if the seats face each other, as shown. Each seat could then be folded up allowing the car to transport wheelchair users, baby buggies, or large items. Parents will be better able to supervise their children if they sit facing them.

Parking in town centres will be much easier because each car will be shorter, and because cars will not be left parked while their owners work or shop. They will be taken by another user, or driven empty out of the town centre to wait and recharge elsewhere.

If new road space is required it can be found by making lanes narrower because these cars will drive very accurately. If necessary additional small flyovers or tunnels could be built  for these cars only. Using these techniques it will be possible to provide faster journey times while increasing the volume of people carried.

The system will permit a higher standard of life for the blind, for people with other disabilities, for the elderly, for those who cannot afford a car, and for those too young to be able to drive. It will also eliminate noise and pollution from town centres, producing health benefits.

They will use less energy than existing cars because they will be lighter, will need to accelerate far less frequently, and will use electrical power rather than a fossil fuelled engine.

Much larger energy savings will come indirectly. Far fewer cars will be needed, cutting down resources used for their manufacture. The system will link well with trains, making public transport much more convenient and increasing its use.

Why can’t this be done now? The basic self driving technology is under development by Google and others.  Advanced batteries already exist that could give these cars an adequate range for use in cities. The ULTRA system, in service in the UK, shows some of these attributes though it operates on a dedicated track.

There are some serious barriers to overcome before the widespread use depicted here is possible. For example cars that lack accident defences cannot easily be used alongside cars or lorries that are under conventional human control. Initial application may need to be in already pedestrianized areas, in dedicated lanes on existing roads, or on new flyovers. Alternatively these vehicles could retain some accident defences initially. Wider use may need to wait until self-driving capability is commonplace, perhaps around 2030.

Insurance is also a key issue – deciding who is at fault if there is an accident. This question is being discussed in the USA at present. Ultimately however these cars should be easier to insure than a human driver because accidents will be rarer.

 

 

 

 

 

Can Driverless Cars help people with disabilities?

How driverless cars can bring a fairer society
How driverless cars can bring a fairer society

Bill is 98. Lots of people are as old as that old in 2050. He is independent, but walks slowly and his eyesight isn’t great. He lives in a city, as most people do in 2050. He fancies a coffee and sets off. When he gets to the nearest road he simply steps off the pavement.

A camera has been set up near his home to watch for this type of incident, which is common because there are many old people and children in the area. It broadcasts a warning. Two cars are approaching, under automatic control. They hear the warning, and slow down slightly so that Bill can get across in front of them.

The first car contains four people who are heading out for a game of wheelchair tennis. The second contains a blind person and her child. She simply got into the car and told it where she wanted to go.

In 2050 the old, the disabled and those unable to drive will have much more satisfying lives. The driverless car will allow them to live normally, no longer imprisoned in their homes or dependent on others to take them where they want to go.

Why can’t this be done now? Well, of course this technology is being developed by Google and others. It is important to allow development to proceed rapidly because these cars will bring a wide range of benefits.

Can buses compete with trains?

20140316 Coach coloured

The bus-train from Liverpool to Cambridge (UK) whines quietly by at 90 mph. The journey of 192 miles will take under three hours, faster than trains or cars. It operates under computer control while the staff on board spend their time serving meals and coffees. 120 passengers enjoy the ride, watching TV and arriving relaxed. It uses roads that were built in the last century, with minor changes at junctions to accommodate these large vehicles.  There are no traffic queues because most people chose to use public transport rather than private cars.

The bus is electrically powered and its energy consumption per passenger is less than a tenth that of a diesel car. Its small energy consumption is consistent with the use of renewable energy sources, so it is effectively zero-carbon.

Across the world, bus-trains operate where there are no direct railway lines. On other routes they compete with trains and provide pressure to reduce ticket prices and improve services. They stop at new bus stations at the side of major roads. People use local buses, trams, trains or short-range electric cars to access these stations.

Why can’t this be done now? It is already starting to happen. Long-range electric buses have already been developed and will become more practical as batteries and fuel cells improve. Batteries can be used for buses for journeys of up to perhaps 200 miles, hydrogen fuel cells will permit longer ranges.

Articulated or bendy buses are already common in many cities, and fast articulated buses have been built. Buses are becoming more luxurious, for example some recent  buses have are fitted with personal entertainment systems and internet access.

Automatic control is being demonstrated for cars, and computer control should be easier for buses that follow simple routes on major highways. The system will cut operating costs and allow long journeys without rest breaks. By 2050 automatic control may be mandatory to cut the risk of human error and to provide a rapid and predictable response to problems.

What is needed technically is simply accelerated development and testing to set safety standards. There will also be a need for politicians to change legislation,  provide incentives, and make the required infrastructure changes. Finally there will be a need for personal tax changes to ensure that excessive use of fossil fuels is prevented, since that will drive the use of low energy systems such as this.

 

 

Can we make Bus travel more energy efficient?

Buses 2050
Buses 2050

 

Jim has a beer in the centre of his town. The beer is local, brewed the same way for 200 years. The buses also look fairly conventional, but the truth is that they are 5 times more efficient than buses in the old days – for example in 2014.

Some of that improvement comes from their engineering. Most of it however comes from how they are operated. In 2014 buses simply drove around to a schedule and people waited at bus stops. Sometimes the bus was full, and people got annoyed. Mostly the buses operated nearly empty. In 2050 all that has changed.

Jim will need a bus home. He reckons it will take him 15 minutes to finish his beer and mentions it to Pat, his electronic assistant. Pat comes back in 30 seconds and tells him the bus will arrive in 19 minutes and he has seat 25. The bus comes as predicted.

The main reason that the bus is so energy efficient is that it is nearly full. In 2014 buses in the UK operated with only 9 passengers on average. Most countries operated with similarly inefficient bus systems. Buses were more efficient than cars in terms of emissions per passenger kilometre, but the difference was not huge. In 2050 buses carry 30 passengers on average. The bulk of the efficiency improvement comes from that fact alone.

How is it done? Everyone signals the journeys that they want to make. Buses are sent when there is demand. Sometimes two or three buses must be used. They link together where routes intersect, and people transfer as in the picture above.

The bus company computer controls the buses. The roads are much less congested because far fewer journeys are made by car, so bus arrival times are predictable. There is much heavier demand for buses so they can operate frequently.

What if Jim needs to leave urgently and there is insufficient demand for a bus right now? Pat will scan the options and come up with the best. Jim may have to pay more, and incur greater environmental damage perhaps by using an electric taxi for part of the journey. If so he will pay extra Q tax. But that an unlikely event. Public transport can normally get Jim everywhere he needs to go, at the time he needs to travel.

Shouldn’t the buses be streamlined? These are slow buses for use in town only. I’ll show long distance buses soon.

p.s I apologise for not posting for a few weeks, I had some projects to complete. Note also that even in 2014 it makes environmental sense to use a bus. It will run whether you use it or not, and if you use it the extra fuel burned will be negligible. In contrast if you take the car, however efficient it is, significant extra fuel will certainly be used.

 

 

 

 

 

Can we make a better transport system?

Today Jim is visiting a friend who lives in a town 20 miles (30km) away. He walks to his local Swift station. The Swift system has been steadily developed since 2030 and it now covers much of the country. Swift stations are spaced so that most people in towns live within half a mile of a station. Those who live further away tend to use bikes or electric cars to reach the Swift.

At the station - travelling backwards!
At the station – travelling backwards!

He walks straight in a ground level and goes to Platform 1, since he is travelling alone and that platform has standard pods. A Swiftpod has just arrived and the attendant waves him across. Everyone sits in the Swift facing backwards, which takes a little getting used to but means that there is no need for seat belts. If there is a problem and the pod brakes heavily he will simply sink into the seat. Jim swipes his card and touches the screen for his destination.

The pod is moved up to the overhead rail, which runs above the streets. It sets off and soon it is in open countryside. It runs at a steady 60mph (100kph), never needing to stop for intersections.

High speed between towns
High speed between towns

After around 20 minutes the pod approaches his destination. It flies above the streets, missing all the traffic.

Gliding over the streets
Gliding over the streets

Soon Jim hears the handling system lowering the pod into the station. He gets out and walks to see his friend. No hassle, no licence needed, no parking, no insurance, faster than the car, and low energy use (low Q).

Swift brings lots of benefits:

  1. It is lightweight, slender and streamlined to use much less energy than a road car.
  2. It is electrically powered so that it is zero emission if powered from a carbon free source.
  3. It doesn’t take up much surface space, so it can get to the centre of towns.
  4. Everyone can use it, not just those who can get a driving licence. This is because it is fully automatic. (There are special vehicles for the disabled, or for larger families, or for outsize goods).
  5. Unlike the car, it doesn’t kill drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. The reduction in car journeys makes it safer for people to walk and cycle, saving further carbon emissions.
  6. It can transport goods without needing a driver, with vehicles sized to match the load.
  7. It doesn’t need to stop at road junctions because all intersections are flyovers. It doesn’t need to stop to pick up or set down other passengers. This saves energy in accelerating and braking, and it also means that point to point journey times are much faster than a bus and, for many journeys, faster than a road car.

Swift links suburbs and towns to each other and to train stations. It is important because it reduces the use of private cars, which are not energy efficient.  A linked page covers why cars can never be as efficient as a system like Swift.

Why aren’t we developing this type of system? Well, to a limited extent we are. Google have put money into the Schweeb, a pedal powered system – See video. This is currently installed at an adventure park but the principles look exciting. The commentator on the video calls Schweeb hard work, but hard work for a human means a power level which is of the order of 1% of the power required by a car. An electric Schweeb would be very efficient.

There is also a  Polish system called MISTER which has not yet been put into full service but looks very good. There is an excellent video on the MISTER website that shows how these systems operate.

There is a UK version called ULTRA which runs on a track, rather than being suspended beneath a rail. ULTRA is in service at Heathrow Terminal 5 to connect with a car park. More ULTRA systems are planned. Systems like ULTRA and MISTER are called Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) systems, and they have a long history of slow development. There is currently an increased level of interest that will hopefully lead to further orders for these systems..

So while there is some encouraging news, the overall investment in this technology remains too small. The objectives of development also need reconsideration – there is a current focus on PRTs for cities. Such systems would be useful, but the biggest problem we face is transport outside the city. City systems do not need to be very streamlined because they only need to travel at 30 mph (50kph).

The safety and accessibility regulations for PRTs are often read across from taxis, cars and trains. Not surprisingly this sometimes produces a vehicle with similar size and shape to a taxi. If so it is unlikely to have a drastically reduced energy requirement.

New regulations are needed, consistent with the need to reduce energy use. They need to recognise developments in control and monitoring technology that will make crashes very rare and therefore reduce some safety requirements. However the development of  unified safety regulations is a long process. Considerable experience of operation is required so that the regulations can be well designed. 

I made my passengers face backwards to illustrate the possible effects of safety issues. Rear facing passengers survive crashes better, especially if safety belts are not used. They also fit better into the streamlined shape. Safety regulations would not just cover passenger protection from accidents but also issues such as emergency evacuation and health problems during the journey, how close together vehicles could travel, and maximum braking and cornering loads.

Accessibility is another key regulatory issue. A flat floor, for example, provides good accessibility for a tram or bus without any serious penalty, but is not consistent with the best aerodynamic shape in these systems. Would regulators accept that an able bodied solo rider can use a slim, light, easily driven vehicle, or would they insist that all vehicles can accommodate wheelchairs? We need regulation that recognises the seriousness of the energy issue.

A general problem is that governments expect industry to lead with ideas and to co-fund development. The business case for  systems like Swift is currently marginal, because the car is so convenient, and its extravagant energy use is affordable. Of course things may change in future, but who knows? The fact that the  regulatory system is uncertain may also be a problem for investors –  the system shown in the sketch may never be permitted. There are technical uncertainties. The timescales are also too long for commercial investment.

We will be very lucky to get a major commercial lead on a system like this. Direct international action, driven and funded by governments, will be needed to make this type of system available when needed.

 

Will Future Cities be Linear?

What do you think of these sketches of a future city? I think it could cut energy use, save lots of countryside and offer a great lifestyle.

The linear city from the air
The linear city from the air
City central street showing transport and deliveries
City central street showing transport and deliveries

Every home is close to the countryside. There are restaurants galore. Millions of job opportunities within 30 minutes commuting time. A wide range of sports can be played or watched. There are plays, concerts and cinemas. There is a choice of schools, universities, hospitals, museums, art galleries all within easy reach.

The disabled, the old, children and cyclists can travel safely. Trains are used for travel along the city, moving walkways aid walking across the city. All services, and all deliveries are electrically powered and underground.

A roof and triple glazed walls protect the whole city and keep it at the right temperature. It is easier to control the temperature of the whole city than many individual homes because the external surface is very much smaller. There is no fuel poverty because homes do not need to be individually heated. There is no sweltering heat either if the city is built in the tropics.

The city could be built up to 20 storeys high and perhaps 2 kilometres (1 and a quarter miles) wide. At that scale it could provide homes for millions of people. It would have added attraction if an existing, fast growing city was at one end of the line.

The linear city offers a new alternative. A life that combines a place in the country with the buzz of a major city. A place where a family could be brought up. There is no need for a car, except perhaps for occasional trips at weekends when one can be hired.

The city duplicates the dynamism of similar linear cities like Manhattan or Hong Kong, and by keeping things compact it leaves the environment available for all to enjoy.

Best of all, energy use on cars and heating/cooling will be a fraction of their current level. Follow this link. The red column on the left estimates individual energy use in the UK. Other developed countries will be similar. You can see that cars and heating/cooling represent a good chunk of the way we currently use energy. The linear city could be a big part of a sustainable future, especially with a couple of billion more people to house on the planet by 2050.

I hope the pictures tell the story. I really struggled with some of these, and nearly gave in and used Powerpoint. Sketching is more fun, and I’ve put in for a course starting in January!

The roof controls the city temperature
The roof controls the city temperature
Why linear cities beat urban sprawl
Why linear cities beat urban sprawl

Why can’t this be done now? It can, and to an extent it is. There is however a big leap from a suburban world to living in close company in a city. People still aspire to leave the cities for the suburbs. The city presented here may not seem attractive until the fuel price rises  to the point where individual homes and cars become unaffordable.

I’ll probably enter this concept into a competition in early 2014 to see if it gains any support there. But I’m not hopeful, I think that its time has not yet come.

What do you think? Would you live here? Let me know your views by clicking on the poll or posting comments.

I’ve done a page with a little more information on linear cities in the ‘Background and Assumptions’ section.