US DOT invested
significant research and development resources into possible new modes of
ground transport in the early 1970s. Out of its AGT programs came many airport
APM applications, a few amusement rides and, in Europe, driverless metros. Also
studied, with little result, were AHS - automated highway systems -- including
ways to get electric power from road surfaces to motors in vehicles.
Congress opted for
conventional roads and spiffed-up but still conventional mass transit.
USDOT research had little
to show from work on dual mode concepts. The gist of DMT is that vehicles can
be driven (manually back then) over streets, arterials and highways. When needed
for longer trips, they enter into exclusive guideway networks to go faster and
recharge batteries. In theory, a blend of car travel and mass transit results.
This concept started Alden’s staRRcar in the 1960s. It morphed into the
uni-modal (only on guideway) Morgantown PRT of the 1970s.
|This Jpod layout would deliver service to stations. In DMT, vehicles |
would exit and get to all points of the mall complex.
Many large companies --
including GM -- studied DMT with FHWA support. They overlap into Automated Highway System
(AHS) concepts that were also explored. It was grand conjectural thinking backed
by big numbers with vast commercial implications.
DMT and AHS were two
sides of the same hypothetical coin. Neither, however, hit pay dirt.
Fast forward to 2016.
Stunning technological advances are putting robocars in campus settings and on some
streets. This should not be surprising. Automation and digitization are transforming
all human activities -- emailing, web research, train and plane movements,
shopping, community life, security response, to name but a few examples.
the globe keep a watch over what is happening on earth, almost in real-time. All of life, it seems, is becoming digitized.
Cars with eyes and brains help finding their own way without drivers. Robocars
on streets -- maybe not busy arterials at first -- are around the corner.
The EU has run several
fleets of robo-shuttles in tame European ways and plaza. The UK has its own
robo-services. In the US they have been demoed in Greenville, Silicon Valley
and recently DC. Robocars will become more common in progressive districts that
value pedestrian-friendly, traffic-tamed streets. At first they will be slow
and of limited range. The service options are many. Today no one can predict
with certainty how robo-services will evolve.
What is predictable is
that people will frequently want to send things or transport themselves more
than a few miles. For longer travel, higher speeds are needed. Battery range
becomes an issue. You need speed, and that draws more power from on-board batteries
that need to be recharged.
A guideway allows both!
Your robocar can check into a guideway portal. Your account activates and you
purchase speed and recharge your batteries. DMT use could be that smooth..
Who is working on DMT
concepts today? Trans.21 has identified only a handful:
Glideway of California’s Bay
EcoPRT of Raleigh, NC housed within NCSU now with NCDOT support
Innovate has Texan Big thinking but eludes public exposure
RUF of Denmark, dormant since 2012
SST is little more than the thinking of an Albuquerque NM retiree
2getthere of The Netherlands has market-ready products
Ultra of the UK, with prototype in operation, but back-shelved by BAA
That’s a pretty small
and motley club -- ranging from individuals to experienced suppliers.
How can cities, towns
and counties examine DMT options as they rethink their modal policies to have a
policy for oncoming robocars? Today decisions-makers
face immediate questions on when and how to regulate robocars on streets and
other zoned spaces.
Robocars can operate in parking lots and structures, on bike and jogging paths, on some sidewalks and in utility ways, in parks and on private property if owners are welcoming.
|Is it better to enlarge the sidewalk for robocars,|
or implant an elevated guideway?
These issues open
other questions, many of them critical to public safety and security. Not the
least of which is who is responsible for maintenance and management? The
potemtial gains in clean mobility are great.