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Transportation Earth Power Technology

Two Big Tests For Personal Rapid Transportation 299

Posted by timothy
from the as-long-as-you-stay-near-a-charging-point dept.
Al writes "A novel kind of transit system, in which cars are replaced by a network of automated electric vehicles, is about to get its first large-scale testing and deployment. Two of these Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) systems are being installed this year, one at Heathrow International Airport, near London, and one in the United Arab Emirates, where it will be the primary source of transportation in Masdar City, a development that will eventually accommodate 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses and is designed to emit no carbon dioxide. The article examines these two systems and includes video that includes an animation of the PRT system in action."
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Two Big Tests For Personal Rapid Transportation

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  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:26PM (#26798489)
    These pods look cute and all, but do they really do anything that trains and buses don't? The trains at SFO and SeaTac do a great job.
  • by Zondar (32904) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:27PM (#26798507)

    I'm assuming the system is electric, but it could only meet the "no CO2" if the electric power is nuclear, hydro, solar, etc... If it's traditional electric power, it's just moving the source of the CO2 and perhaps the efficiency.

  • Good idea, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reason58 (775044) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:30PM (#26798565)
    It seems as if something like this would attract vagrants, significant vandalism and just plain disgustingness. Would be pretty cool though if major cities were only filled with people like the scientists and engineers would designed it.
  • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:34PM (#26798637)

    They leave at the second you want to leave and can probably stop exactly where you want to stop.

    Instead of trying to speed up and slow down an entire train every 1/2 mile you're only accelerating and stopping these once per passenger.

    I didn't RTFA, but the systems I've seen in the past have little 'bypasses' at each stop. You get in and punch in a destination. If you're at your destination you get off. If you're not you keep on whizzing by. It's faster so people would be more apt to use it. (You're not going to waste 3/4 of the trip slowing down and speeding up to somewhere you're not going.)

  • by Toe, The (545098) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:50PM (#26798897)

    If it scales up, it then can be compared to cars, not trains.

    The benefits a system like this has over cars are:
    - Vastly reduced fatalities to occupants (though perhaps pedestrians can still be struck by them)
    - Vastly reduced production resources - instead of everyone having a car, you just "call a cab"
    - Vastly reduced pollution - since you can centralize the power source, instead of having cars spewing everywhere
    - Vastly reduced parking resources - these can just roam or idle in compact storage, instead of requiring parking spots at every house and every destination
    - Vastly reduced traffic congestion - since traffic is controlled by robotic overlords
    - Get as drunk as you want while you "drive" - or alternately, work, play, etc. while you are transported

  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:50PM (#26798907) Journal
    And they work all night around. A blame I hold against most mass transit systems.
  • by jo_ham (604554) <joham999&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:53PM (#26798965)

    Speed. You can cover a lot of ground without expending energy over the course of your long shift in the huge terminal you're patrolling, and when you step off it you're not "tired out" from getting to where you're needed.

    (assuming the cop in question actually does maintain a fitness regime commensurate with a job where being grossly unfit would be a severe hindrance - I know some cops who do, and some who don't - in the former case, the Segway is just a tool for the job, in the latter case, it is a crutch to overcome being breathless right before an arrest.)

  • by Kozz (7764) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:53PM (#26798969)

    I've got no concrete info to back this up, only my gut -- but I wonder if providing small, relatively private transportation pods could backfire (as much as I would like it to succeed).

    People may feel like the pod they're currently in is "theirs". And we've seen what people do in their own cars and how they can treat them: eating, smoking, littering, f#%&ing, you name it. Then consider also what people do in/on city buses and subway systems. After a pod has been in service for the first 48 hours, will it be clean/sanitary enough that others will want to use it?

    I certainly wouldn't want to find people's stale McDonald's french fries, mysterious sticky substances on the seats, etc. At least on mass transit, you're sharing the space so there's a certain social pressure to respect others to some degree, but would this evaporate in the privacy of "your own pod"?

  • by Rolgar (556636) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:54PM (#26798977)

    Why does that have to be a downfall of this system? The people that build the transportation don't have any power over what the city or power utility has decided to use for electricity any more than you or I, so it's out of their control. Is it the fault of somebody that lives in an apartment that the apartment has electricity from a coal plant instead of a wind farm since solar and wind are probably not feasible on site?

    This is a better option, because of efficiency, than other options, with a chance to being upgraded to renewable sources when it is feasible. Many places in the US already are moving toward more renewable sources, but do you expect even them to all scrap any investment they'd already made in carbon based electricity before renewables became viable options?

    Do what works but campaign for improvement in the next upgrade.

  • Re:bass ackwords (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:54PM (#26798985)

    The reason I say this is that if you have to build one car per person and maintain the cars and the system for the cars, that's a huge environmental impact.

    But in a shared-car system you don't need one car per person: you just need as many cars as are required at peak usage. For any given hour of the day, many cars are actually just sitting parked.

    With fewer cars in total, it becomes more practical for those cars to be well-maintained, energy-efficient, and so on. (Convincing everyone to buy new energy-efficient cars is impossible. Migrating a communal fleet of vehicles to a new greener technology is more practical.) And if well-managed, there is no reason that such a fleet could not be just as convenient (in terms of getting a car as soon as you need one) as owning a car. (In fact there may be added conveniences like not having to worry about parking.)

    In a sense it's not too different from mass-usage of taxis (as seems to happen quite a bit in New York City, for instance), of rental vehicles, or car-share services (e.g. zipcar [zipcar.com]).

    (That's the theory, at least. I'm well-aware of the practical problems of any such system, such as people not keeping the communal vehicles clean, the dangers and inefficiencies of the added bureaucracy, being reliant on someone else's (mis)management, etc.)

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:58PM (#26799045) Homepage Journal
    "assuming the cop in question actually does maintain a fitness regime commensurate with a job where being grossly unfit would be a severe hindrance"

    You know, I've often wondered if Police depts around the country actually have minimum physical standards that all street cops have to pass. If they do, how freakin' low are these minimums?

    I mean, I see a LOT of officers that could not run a block without heart failure, and with guts so large, they have a hard time fitting under a steering wheel of a car.

    I think if anything, we might want more cops walking a beat again....to keep them in good physical condition.

  • by poot_rootbeer (188613) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:00PM (#26799055)

    A bus would use the same amount of energy to stop and let 10 people off, as it would to stop and let 1 off.

    EXACTLY. Why run an enormous diesel (or electric, or CNG) motor to move around an entire bus, if the payload that needs to be transported is only a single person?

    The PRT approach allows the energy expendicture of system to scale almost exactly with demand, albeit with a larger overhead at peak usage than traditional mass transit.

  • by qbzzt (11136) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:02PM (#26799077)

    Otherwise, some larger system would be more efficient.

    More energy efficient, but less time efficient. It depends on the relative value of people's time vs. energy.

  • by cliffski (65094) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:08PM (#26799153) Homepage

    i think the gist is that being electric, the vehicles are therefore power-source agnostic, in terms of it being easy to get the power from renewable sources. You can just change the input and the output is fixed. With gasoline powered cars, thats not the case.

  • by Kagato (116051) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:09PM (#26799175)

    That's right on. If you do a lot of travel you see several peak times during the day, and a lot of off peak times. it's not uncommon to see a train/tram/whatever running fairly empty. That's a lot of wasted energy.

    The real question of these systems won't be if they can save money per passenger, it's can they spin up and handle the load at peak times.

  • by migurski (545146) <.moc.onzcet. .ta. .ekim.> on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:15PM (#26799287) Homepage
    PRT's are not novel, they've been an engineering pipe dream for at least 60 years. There was a similar design effort in the 1970s in Paris that was the subject of an excellent book by Bruno Latour called Aramis [teczno.com]. TFA says that PRT have been previous unworkable for "a variety of reasons, including the cost of the initial systems and the difficulty of integrating them into existing cities". The Paris project got all the way to physical prototypes, built sections of track, etc., and one of Latour's conclusions is that the PRT concept is itself unworkable. It lives in an inflexible no man's land between private vehicles and mass transit: passengers can't go where they want because the system has tracks and shared "pods", and engineers can't scale it how they want because the vehicles don't have flexible open space inside to cram in more passengers during busy times. Lose-lose, all around.
  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:15PM (#26799293)

    One big train or bus logically can only come by every so many minutes. You don't want to wait 15 minutes. Plus it can only follow a specific route.

    For example, my office is 10 minutes away by car. Yet if I were to ride the bus that goes there it would take 1.5 HOURS because first I have to wait 15 minutes for it to show up, then I have to ride downtown to a central station, wait another 15 minutes for the bus going to where I want to go, and then ride that bus. All the way these buses are starting and stopping and go maybe overall 1/2 the speed of a car.

    I don't have 1.5 hours of free time to spend commuting. Judging by the ridership, nobody else that is gainfully employed does either.

    Now, if we had say smart electric taxis that would show up when I need my ride and go directly there at speed, it would be basically a no-brainer. I'd be on it in 5 seconds. Even if it DID go half as fast as a normal car, so what? I can live with 20 mins if it will save me money. I might even do it if it cost the same.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:28PM (#26799515)

    The wiki article you linked has an article from the Daily Athenaeum in 2007 that says it moves 16,000 a day with 99% being students and 2.25 million a year. That seems like a lot more than "very few locas or students" using it.

    Besides, the article for this story compares these new PRTs to the Morgantown and why they are better.

    http://www.da.wvu.edu/show_article.php?&story_id=31053 [wvu.edu]

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:35PM (#26799617)

    Instead of trying to speed up and slow down an entire train every 1/2 mile you're only accelerating and stopping these once per passenger.

    But of course you have to run the huge train or bus off-peak, too. Otherwise, people won't be able to depend on mass transit and will drive. So as a result, even the vaunted NYC mass-transit system isn't - on average - that much better than if people were just being hauled around in individual cabs.

    Some mix is probably the right thing to do. Peak hours run a combination of express and local trains, just like today. But then switch over to these little personal cars on the same tracks during off-peak times. You simply can't beat a train for passengers per hour.

  • by Bruiser80 (1179083) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:35PM (#26799619)
    My understanding is that it's an automated taxi, essentially.

    It's true that the traveling range and the grid that they work on is an issue.

    As for theft, there is no ability to steal the car. It's connected to a grid, with no means of driving it off the grid. It has no use outside the grid, making it pointless to steal.

    Vandalism on the other hand... :-)
  • by superdave80 (1226592) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:35PM (#26799627)

    A bus only needs 1 engine, for this you need 1 engine for every 1 or 2 people.

    Yes, but what happens when that bus has only 1 or 2 (or zero) people? You waste a lot of energy moving around a heavy, empty bus.

    A bus would use the same amount of energy to stop and let 10 people off, as it would to stop and let 1 off.

    And it would use the same amount of energy to stop and let zero people off, which it does many times a day. This is a waste of energy, and a waste of time for the people on the bus.

    Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses. It seems that the best way to make use of the two systems is to have scheduled bus service only during peak hours to make use of the efficiency of a fully loaded bus, and have the automated system to handle off-peak traffic. This would avoid the waste of large empty buses wasting energy.

  • by Spatial (1235392) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:38PM (#26799661)
    "Control" and "Flying car" are mutually exclusive, I suspect. People are bad enough at driving in two dimensions, let alone three.
  • by Toe, The (545098) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:42PM (#26799725)

    Sure; most people love driving. It has become part of the "American way" for some reason.

    But how does "liking" something compare to killing tens of thousands of people each year [dot.gov], causing massive destruction of ecosystems, causing other vast climactic changes, draining natural resources, and destroying watersheds (with pavement)?

    Is a little enjoyment really worth all that? Can't you go drive bumper cars or play a driving game or something?

    Heck, lots of guys enjoy having sex with lots of varied women every day. But something prevents them from grabbing the nearest hottie and having their way with her. I think it has something to do with... social responsibility.

  • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:44PM (#26799751)

    People like having control, sure. People who are as pathological about it as you are are called control freaks. It costs more to you and to everyone around you and you acknowledge it's more dangerous to life and limb, yet you still insist on manual control of 1-2 tons of steel, including dependence on a primitive manual transmission lever you have to flip with your own hand?

    Wanting to drive for fun is one thing. Wanting to drive for control is nuts. Driving in any large metro area is nothing but an exercise in frustration anyway, if your goal is control. You're surrounded night and day by hundreds of other vehicles and you don't control a single one of them. You're forced to proceed at the pace of the vehicle in front of you and no faster, many times. You're forced to stop repeatedly at stop lights for other vehicles, or even for nothing at all, because the light will turn red regardless. Doesn't sound like you have much personal control over the experience at all, if you ask me.

    And flying cars, if they ever exist in the numbers that automobiles exist today, will be computer controlled and it will be criminally illegal to fly on manual over a metro area. Bet on it.

  • by Dmala (752610) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @02:00PM (#26799995)
    Another huge benefit: no schedule. A bus or a train with a fixed schedule can make it very difficult to be flexible with work hours. Stay 10 minutes late, and you can spend hours waiting for the next bus or train or making other arrangements if you miss the last one. The idea of being able to just show up at a station at any time, hop in a pod, and head directly to my destination is very appealing.
  • by Dmala (752610) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @02:10PM (#26800183)
    I love driving, too, but for my daily commute I'd just as soon be shuttled around. Creeping through traffic and trying not to get hit by bozos on cell phones is not what I consider "driving." Let the bus driver (train engineer, pod computer, etc.) deal with it while I relax. I usually get another 20-30 minutes of sleep a day just dozing on the bus.
  • Re:Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dasunt (249686) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @02:11PM (#26800205)

    For example, my office is 10 minutes away by car. Yet if I were to ride the bus that goes there it would take 1.5 HOURS because first I have to wait 15 minutes for it to show up, then I have to ride downtown to a central station, wait another 15 minutes for the bus going to where I want to go, and then ride that bus. All the way these buses are starting and stopping and go maybe overall 1/2 the speed of a car.

    I don't have 1.5 hours of free time to spend commuting. Judging by the ridership, nobody else that is gainfully employed does either.

    It's called a bicycle. Get some fenders, a good lock, and add a pannier or two for your work clothes.

    Travel slowly so you don't sweat (say around 10mph or so).

    If your office is 10 minutes away by car, odds are it is within two or three miles, should be easy to reach it within 20 minutes or so.

  • by vux984 (928602) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @02:18PM (#26800327)

    My main beef with them is that you are no longer talking at eye level. They are raised up above you.

    The height is an advantage. Its not a 'birds eye view', but it gets them up over the crowd a bit, which is enough to make a big difference.

    And of course they can cross an airport quickly without expending energy which can come in handy in an actual emergency.

    The talking down thing is sort of a bonus, because its a 'position of power', while its annoying if you are just chatting, in theory it the height advantage might be useful for directing crowds and issuing instructions in an emergency. The height would give them a bit more authority and make them more visible... both which would make them more effective.

  • by atamido (1020905) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @02:59PM (#26801147)

    It should be trivial to use a small webcam to record video of trips. Then if someone reported damage to the vehicle, you check the video of the past user to see if they caused the damage, and automatically charge their account.

  • by slim (1652) <`ten.puntrah' `ta' `nhoj'> on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:25PM (#26801687) Homepage

    Of course you can retain your fleet of buses, and only run them at peak times, letting the PRT system handle the road the rest of the time.

  • by Goalie_Ca (584234) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:38PM (#26801971)
    Notice though the whole city has to be designed around this concept.
  • Cars don't scale (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Phoenix666 (184391) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:57PM (#26802419)

    well in dense urban environments. NYC would have to turn the entire island of Manhattan into a 10-story parking garage to accommodate the millions of people who commute in on subways and buses everyday. Also, the traffic would be a Dantean nightmare, as opposed to the nightmare it already is with a tiny minority of commuters *cough* Jerseyites *cough* driving in.

    Mass transit is also much faster and vastly cheaper. Driving from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side would take about 90 minutes with traffic. Subway gets you there in 45 minutes or even 35 if you catch the transfers right. And an $84 monthly pass lets you ride as much as you want, whereas the same money are what it costs you to fuel a Hummer for a couple weeks. But then you also have to pay for parking, and insurance, and tolls, and maintenance....

    Last but not least, my subway pass stays in my pocket and somebody else watches the trains. As opposed to leaving $100,000 worth of my personal property on the street where some jackass can mess with it or steal it.

    So really, at the end of the day getting on your city's back to get them to build out a better transit system is a much better transportation solution than keeping running on the car and oil industries' hamster wheel.

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