Innovative ways to get about town

Increasingly, cities are looking at new more efficient means of transportation

By Antoinette Price

Despite decades of attempts to reduce urban traffic, by encouraging car-pooling or deterring drivers with congestion charges, city driving is more time-consuming than ever, and often ends in gridlock. There is also the issue of poor and sometimes harmful air quality.

In a bid to improve transport systems while protecting the environment, authorities are embracing new technologies and adapting old ideas to offer commuters more energy efficient, eco-friendly, less costly public transport.

London cable cars
London cable cars

Up, up and away

From the world’s highest major metropolis in Bolivia to cities in Africa, Europe, the US and Australasia, the cable car, aka aerial tramway, is proving a popular supplement to existing city transport systems for a number of reasons. Originally built in the mid to late 1800s to offer tourists stunning city views, they now provide commuters with a clean, quiet, efficient way to get from A to B.

El Alto, Bolivia’s second largest city in the Department of La Paz is one of its largest and fastest-growing urban centres. La Paz-El Alto Cable Car, opened in 2014, is the longest in the world and proving very successful. It was planned to address the precarious public transit system that could not cope with growing user demands, environmental and noise pollution from heavy traffic, growing fuel demands and high costs in time and money to travel between La Paz and El Alto.

Hanging about safely

Passengers enjoy the scenic commute, while components housed in the two end stations –electric motors, cables, pulleys, gearboxes, service and emergency brakes, main, auxiliary and emergency drives, track and haul rope counterweights – make it all possible.

Covering such motors, the work of IEC Technical Committee (TC) 2: Rotating machinery, produces International Standards which deal with the specifications for motors (and generators) of all sizes.

Cable car manufacturers in the EU make up 90 percent of the global industry. Standards and regulations ensure the strictest safety requirements are applied to the technology and operation of all cable cars. Additionally, the EU Directive for cableways, in force since 2004 in EU countries, contributes towards maintaining a uniform and high level of safety.

Charging around the city

Like power tools, smart phones and toothbrushes, buses can also be charged using wireless or induction charging systems. More cities are trialling this technology to make their transport systems cleaner and more efficient. The benefits include:

  • drivers no longer need to find a charging station to plug into
  • induction charging batteries are a quarter the weight of those with cables
  • these buses need less on-board energy storage, so their design can be lighter and easier to produce

IEC Subcommittee (SC) 21A: Secondary cells and batteries containing alkaline or other non-acid electrolytes, prepares International Standards for batteries used in mobile applications and electric vehicles, as well as for large-capacity lithium cells and batteries. These Standards concern tests and measurements, design and manufacturing recommendations and safety requirements. They are essential for the battery industry as it develops new products and chemistries.

Living in a driverless world

Imagine a city where people are transported around in eco-friendly, quiet, driverless vehicles. Does it sound like something out of a movie?

Saving commuter time, money, the environment and eliminating human error are key reasons behind a number of projects trialing driverless car-like transportation for congested cities.

Great Britain is at the forefront of this emerging technology which could lead to an estimated GBP 900 billion (USD 1.4 trillion) industry by 2025.

As part of a larger government-backed autodrive initiative, prototypes are being tested in four cities, with the aim of offering commuters, shoppers and the elderly clean, safe, driverless transportation for short distances.

How driverless vehicles work

Sensors enable the collection of massive amounts of data and are part of the technology that connects devices and systems in an Internet of Things. They also make driverless technology possible.

Seating two people and luggage, the pod covers up to around 64 km at a top speed of 24 km/h and runs for up to eight hours. Its 22 sensors, including panoramic cameras, laser imaging and radar, can build a very detailed picture of its surroundings, and know very accurately how far it is from any object.

The pod’s sensory apparatus is linked to a Macbook Pro, which over three years will create 3D maps of the pod’s journey between Milton Keynes railway station and the shopping centre.

IEC work in standardization contributes significantly to this technology. Manufacturers are able to build more reliable and efficient sensors and MEMS thanks to International Standards prepared by IEC TC 47: Semiconductor devices and IEC SC 47F: Microelectromechanical systems.

A work in progress

There are a number of challenges which will need to be overcome if this type of transportation is to become mainstream. They include the ability to deal with bad weather conditions which hamper visibility, and for the technology to be able to better negotiate pavements, and deal with the situation where pedestrians or other items suddenly appear out of nowhere at the last minute. Additionally, the driving environment will need to be prepared, as will people and regulations to accommodate all the changes.

London cable cars London cable cars
diagram of a bus Wireless charging system for buses
Lutz Pathfinder Lutz Pathfinder pod (Photo: Transport Systems Catapult)