Australia heard this week that trials are beginning in Perth for a driverless bus. The future is coming faster than we think. In Brussels last week a transport prize was awarded to a design for the kind of highway driverless cars might use. And it’s open source.
A possible future transportation system many times more efficient than anything in existence, but which integrates presently existing technology, has been awarded 2016’s Best Innovation Project by the Smart Transportation Alliance, a not-for-profit global leader driving transportation infrastructure innovation, at a ceremony last week in Brussels.
In this system cars would travel in close convoy along special trackways at speeds around 190 kilometres an hour into and between cities. The cars would be similar to present-day cars, even, to begin with, petrol or diesel. But they would be adapted to be able to be controlled remotely.
The roads themselves would power electric vehicles, which could therefore travel indefinitely. By travelling less than a metre apart they give roads a far higher carrying capacity, cramming, the creators have calculated, the equivalent of ten lanes of motorway into one.
These systems would be ultrasafe and, being likely developed by public private partnerships, financed by pay-as-you-go travel – a futuristic evolution and integration of technologies such as driverless vehicles, dynamic charging and smart city data.
The TEV Project (Tracked Electric Vehicles) is the brainchild of US inventor Will Jones and the current project director is his daughter, Scotland-based Caroline Jones-Carrick, who joined the project after more than a decade working in communications for urban regeneration and construction projects.
I asked her first, what was the value of winning this award?
“It signifies how far we’ve come since the project began,” Ms Jones-Carrick said. “We’re really proud of it because we spent a lot of time trying to share this vision and get people interested. To receive this award means it’s working and we’re on the right track.
“We are not part of some huge international conglomerate. It helps that we have people now with credibility and experience who have said yes, this is a brilliant idea, in order to show people that it is possible. The award ceremony itself was a fantastic opportunity to discuss new technology trends with thought leaders and decision makers who, like us, want to drive forward changes in the way we travel.”
Ms Jones-Carrick is carrying on the work of her father and she loves this idea.
“My father is a businessman, a mechanical engineer. I call him a conscience entrepreneur, an entrepreneur with a conscience. The concept was his idea in order to help reduce emissions and our oil consumption and find a better way to get around. We never set out to make money and I’ve always been part of that goal. We feel that it has to be open source.”
Yes, you heard right. Like the internet, in fact like the very concept of roads themselves, this idea is largely unpatented. TEV is constituted as a non-profit registered social enterprise. I asked Ms Jones-Carrick about the motivation behind this.
“If you’re proposing something that is as big as TEV, there’s no other way to do it in order to innovate. You have to invite partners and experts on all kinds of fields. I don’t think you could just sit there and come up with an idea this big and have it work. It’s too big an idea,” she said.
So, perhaps astonishingly, apart from a small amount of initial sponsorship, Ms Jones-Carrick is not paid to do this, and her father has taken nothing.
So how would it ever come to market if no firm could make money from intellectual property ownership? Couldn’t some firm steal the idea from them and develop it?
“Governments may want to see the idea implemented and so support it. If we got a call from some big company that wanted to invest then we could adapt to that. We would be flexible. Whatever works,” she said.
There has so far been no prototyping or proof-of-concept.
“All we’ve done so far is the computer generated animation to show how it could look.”
See below for these, which are reminiscent of Minority Report, a film Ms Jones-Carrick unsurprisingly said she is a big fan of.
They are working on a grant funded feasibility study perhaps in conjunction with Transport Research Laboratory. Following this there will be a physical prototype. They also have a partner called Urban Foresight that is investigating the possibility of working with a Transport Systems Catapult funded project of InnovateUK, which is looking at various different kinds of infrastructure and systems for future smart transport integration.
“We are hoping to partner with the couple of universities and two large engineering firms,” she said.
“We have always thought that India and China would be among the country’s most interested because they have to move people in droves and are developing fast with problems of emissions. We have had many conversations with the Indian Ministry of Road and Highways Transport and we are still in touch with them. ”
China is on the radar and completion of a feasibility study, expected in about six months, will push this forward, Ms Jones-Carrick said.
Chairman of STA, José F. Papi, said he was very pleased that TEV was the winner of the first edition of the STA Annual Innovation Awards.
“These awards honour global innovators that have decisively contributed to improving the methods, technologies and standards associated to transportation infrastructures,” he said.
“Ultimately, we want to see change,” Ms Jones-Carrick added. “Not only to road infrastructure, but to the way people travel across the world. Congestion, emissions problems and rising costs of road repairs need to be addressed now so the transportation of tomorrow is cleaner, greener, safer and affordable.
“I hope we can make the most of the awesome technologies being developed to create new road systems that represent how we want car-based transportation to look in decades to come.”
With their calculations showing that, per passenger-mile, TEV would be cheaper than any other method of mass transit, it will only take some imaginative authorities to give this exciting idea a fighting chance of achieving reality.
David Thorpe is the author of:
- Solar Technology: The Earthscan Expert Guide to Using Solar Energy for Heating, Cooling and Electricity
- The ‘One Planet’ Life: A Blueprint for Low Impact Development
- Energy Management in Buildings: The Earthscan Expert Guide
- Energy Management in Industry: The Earthscan Expert Guide and
- Sustainable Home Refurbishment: The Earthscan Expert Guide to Retrofitting Homes for Efficiency