Friday Fun: Are automated roads the next transport revolution?
Transport systems play an important role in shaping the character of an urban environment. Photo by Trey Ratcliff/Flickr.

Transport systems play an important role in shaping the character of an urban environment. Photo by Trey Ratcliff/Flickr.

Fresh off our discussion of the latest advances in solar-powered roadways, TheCityFix brings you the next future-oriented innovation in road technology: electric roadways.

The Tracked Electrical Vehicle (TEV) Project is a radical new concept looking to transform the look, feel, and purpose of our roads. Designed as an open-source initiative in 2012, the TEV Project is early in its development and aims to create a network of compact, electrically powered roadways on which conventional Electric Vehicles (EVs) can drive indefinitely under computer control. These clean and efficient electric highways are designed to be used by EVs – including private cars as we know them today – as well as other transport modes like mini-buses, taxis and light freight vehicles. These electric roadways would supplement traditional roads and could be raised above or sunk below ground. If successful, this project could impact transport emissions, road safety, traffic congestion, and help to address other prominent challenges in the transport sector.

A fully automated system

The TEV roadways would be controlled by a computer system in a similar way to Automatic Train Operation, a system currently used by some metro systems. This would allow a road user to travel to his or her pre-programmed destination using the system as a guide. As they are fully automated, electric roadways would provide a safer and faster mode of transport than private vehicles today. For example, the system aims to take passengers 300 km (about 186 miles) in an hour and a half. Vehicles would be powered directly with electricity from the tracks as they travel, meaning they would never need to stop to recharge.

Are electric roadways a fit for developing countries?

Many developing cities face the challenge of population growth outpacing infrastructure development. Road safety is a particularly important problem in many low- and middle-income countries. In India, for example, there are approximately 134,000 reported traffic fatalities each year and growing. If electric roadways are successfully implemented, they could save hundreds of thousands of lives annually. Automatic control allows electric roadways to carry a greater number of passengers than traditional roads. This could reduce infrastructure costs for growing cities that build a single electric highway instead of multiple traditional highways. For these reasons, the TEV project believes developing countries may be best suited for the new system, and can use the project as an opportunity for technology leapfrogging. Still, the full costs of creating electric powered highways, conventional electric vehicles, and a smart computer network may be cost prohibitive for developed and developing cities alike. Further, the project will have many hurdles to overcome once it is operational. For example, will a breakdown of one car on a single lane track prevent the rest of the cars behind it from moving forward? Or, could the automated system be vulnerable to hacks and endanger the safety of road users?

Can the TEV Project deliver clean transport?

In 2011, transport made up 22% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and minimizing emissions from the transport sector is crucial to preventing dangerous levels of global climate change. As an electric based system, TEV aims to help reduce global carbon emissions. The system would also create energy savings over traditional private vehicles through eliminating the need for headlights, using steady vehicle speeds, reducing aerodynamic drag, and many other features. The TEV project could represent one means of shifting to a cleaner form of transport while improving the quality of travel.

Innovative technology has a role to play in the future of safe, sustainable transport. Sill, the TEV project is early in its development, and cities already have the means to create safe, sustainable transport systems without having to expand road infrastructure. For example, investments in cycling networks and mass transport systems increase road safety while decreasing emissions. Further, relatively low cost infrastructure projects like bus rapid transit can save commuters significant amounts of time. For instance, Istanbul’s bus rapid transit system saves the typical passenger 52 minutes per day. These sustainable transport systems, while perhaps not as futuristic as the TEV project, are a proven means to increasing quality of life.

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