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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 Ian_Bailey (469273) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:32PM (#26798597) Homepage Journal

    I wonder in 20 years how these "networks" will compare to the Morgantown PRT [wikipedia.org].

  • What's the Point? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lobiusmoop (305328) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:32PM (#26798605) Homepage

    Individual transport within an airport - an environment designed round mass transport?

    The Heathrow video claims '50% lower carbon emissions than buses or trains' - is that per passenger though? In a busy airport like Heathrow regular trains would be more efficient than individual transporters surely.

  • by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:46PM (#26798841)

    Yes, but count tonnage per passenger and I think you'll find the cars are a lot worse for efficiency, so the accelerating and stopping per passenger is a lot worse for the personal vehicles.

    These are convenient only for places they go, as well. They either need to be as big and safe as a car, or they need tracks like a train.

    As far as I can tell, the only thing they have going for them is being electric instead of fuel, and being so ugly nobody would try to steal it.

  • by rrohbeck (944847) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:47PM (#26798843)

    I saw a cop on a Segway at the airport a couple of weeks ago and for the life of me I couldn't understand what benefits such a clumsy way of moving around might have over walking. Save some of the calories from donuts? Employ disabled cops? I don't get it.

  • Rumpty tumpty time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jonnyj (1011131) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:54PM (#26798995)

    We almost bought one of these systems in Cardiff, Wales a few years back. Then the local press started speculating that the pods would be a great place for couples to indulge themselves on the way home from the pub. Thoughts of grafitti-covered pods full of condoms, used syringes and vomit killed the scheme dead in its tracks.

    This might be OK in an airport. In an inner city it would be a disaster.

  • Re:Good idea, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:09PM (#26799173)

    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.

    I don't know the particulars of this system but I can make a couple of assumptions on how this can be handled.

    1. You pay for your trip via credit card.
    2. A vehicle arrives for your use. If it is unsanitary, you press a button and it routes back to maintenance for cleaning.
    3. Any vehicle flagged for maintenance will have its passenger log reviewed. Any passenger racks up 3 sanitary flaggings by passengers using the vehicle after him will be banned from the service for a month.

    I'm less enthusiastic about putting video cameras in the cab to directly record vandalism, it could just as easily be abused as any other reasonable control people think of, but I think the flagging system should be relatively abuse-resistant. And I'd feel very pleased to see punks suffering the consequences of their actions. I for one am sick of going into a nice business and seeing the restrooms vandalized by stupid rich white kids who think they're ghetto because they listen to M&M.

  • by eobanb (823187) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:17PM (#26799319) Homepage
    I would imagine that a PRT system like this would work best in conjunction with other mass transit and personal transit systems, preferably integrated into one overall system. Just like the only way to replace fossil fuels is with a combination of renewable resources, the only way to really replace cars is with a combination of transit systems. On really heavy, major routes, I would think that trams/trains/buses would be the best. On lighter routes, (especially flowing out from urban to suburban areas), PRTs would be best, with dozens of small branch lines to take people within just a block or two of where they live.

    This is how cars will eventually be replaced.
  • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:26PM (#26799467)

    Except when everything is tied to the same grid you can use one big 'battery' at the end of the line. Every time a vehicle brakes you can dump the energy back to the grid. A huge underground flywheel would be ideal. If every car tried to accelerate at once you could dump it out of the fly wheel and vice versa (just make sure you size your power lines to handle the load).

    For aerodynamic efficiency you could easily pair one or two pods together to go a long distance. If I'm going across town and there's a personal pod coming up that is going to the similar location the system could sync our vehicles up for the longest portion of the drive.

  • by gnick (1211984) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:43PM (#26799739) Homepage

    They typically (always?) have to meet a set of minimum physical standards to get hired. However, they are not often required to maintain those standards once employed. Professional firefighters, on the other hand, typically have to meet a much stricter set of standards to get hired and maintaining their health is certainly a condition of employment. I know a cop here (captain now) who tried for about a decade to get into the fire department but, once he finally passed the physical entrance screen he was so close to retirement that he decided to just stick it out with the police force. (The guy's in incredible shape - I don't know what they put the firefighters through, but it must be rough.)

    That said, I can think of a bunch of good reasons for cops to walk a beat rather than patrolling. If not just for health, just to lower the barrier a little between them and the rest of us grunts - For their sake and ours.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:56PM (#26799933)

    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?

    So give people the option to reject the pod as being unsanitary. Then it goes off to the depot and if somebody checks it out and it's really gross the previous person gets a fine of some kind. Sure somebody might get a pod, dump trash in, then reject it, but presumably a good bureaucracy can account for this.

    This creates a balance between 'clean enough' and waiting for another pod.

  • by WebCowboy (196209) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:57PM (#26799937)

    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.

    You refuted your own argument here. This is exactly why buses and trains are inefficient. During peak hours they are great--a full bus has dozens of people being carried by a single vehicle, but half the time buses are LESS than half full. Buses are very large and consume a lot of diesel, so if you can't run them full ALL the time they approach the efficiency of a car.

    The "peak load" problem can be solved by either closing or merging routes during non-peak hours (at the expense of customer service/utility of the system), or by running smaller buses and vans when demand is lower (reducing efficiency, increasing capital costs and lowering equipment utilisation)

    Also, public transit vehicles have to stop much more often than PRTs--there are a lot more energy savings in a non-stop route. There is no idling, no stopping and no acceleration to waste energy.

    Keep in mind that these new PRTs would be automated, which means there is more opportunity to employ energy-saving ideas that cannot be safely done with personal cars driven by humans. For example, pods can follow very close or even join into trains on-the-fly, and can separate on-the-fly as well. If pods are joined into trains, some or most of them could reduce or even shut down power and coast as they cruise--then you get similar or equal efficiency to a bus or train and better flexibility.

  • by smitke (195883) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @02:17PM (#26800303) Journal

    The beauty of these "pods" is that one is at the station waiting for you whenever you show up. You don't have to match your schedule to the train/bus schedule.

    The issue is integrating the tracks into current urban settings so that you only have to walk a couple blocks between the station and your destination. Elevated or submerged tracks and stations seem like the only feasible solution but both have enormous investment costs.

    These pods will never work over longer distances which might be what you are referring to with door-to-door travel. But people would be far more likely to take a train from LA to SF or NY to DC if they could count on a pod being ready at the station to take them to within a couple blocks of there destination within the city.

  • Parking lots (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tknd (979052) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @02:45PM (#26800873)

    The problem with the US is suburbs and city planning around automobiles. Go on Google maps, look at Los Angeles. Next to every large building you'll see giant parking lots. Next to many homes you'll see driveways and/or roads wide enough for street parking.

    Now go to a large city in Europe or Japan. You'll still see parking lots and roads. But you'll find that there are fewer parking lots and the roads are narrow. If you have street view you'll see the buildings are taller and less spread out.

    All I'm pointing out is car culture leads to less density. This leads to poor public mass transit systems because they need a high level of ridership to be viable. But we may never get that because everyone is too convinced they need a car and a place to park it everywhere they go.

  • by atamido (1020905) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @02:52PM (#26800997)

    The idea that I've seen put forth is that the tracks can be much smaller than a regular train as the pod is very light (only need sitting room for 3 people). This means you can easily and cheaply (relatively) build elevated tracks above sidewalks or roads, so you can put a train stop just about anywhere. Because of decreased expense, you get more tracks and more stops, increasing their usefulness.

    Normal trains require quite a bit of space and expense to build a track.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @06:47PM (#26805305)

    If you're clever about light rail system you'd run both PRTs and regular bus-style tram cars. On peak demand hours, you'd make riding the PRTs more expensive. This way you can keep demand up for tram-style cars which are more cost effective when fully used. But during off-peak hours, sideline all the trams and run nothing but PRTs at tram car pricing.

    Also a good design incorporating PRTs + trams should have a dual sideages setup. That way a backlog of either at any of the stations wont tie up the works, and things should keep flowing well on the main line.

  • by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @09:13PM (#26807143)

    This is how cars will eventually be replaced.

    No. Cars will evolve into PRT systems. What is lacking is automated drivers. Once a car can drive itself you can do many great things like have then hook up into trains or one car can tell other cars that it needs to change lans and the others move out of the way.

    Little by little cars will gain "smarts" at first with automatic braking then steering controls to follow a lane and so one until maybe 50 years they no longr need a driver at all -- great for kids and old people.... and drunks

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