This story originally appeared in our May 19th, 2011 e-magazine. Click here to subscribe
We take a look at five inventive – if less than practical – urban transport concepts.
1. Solar-Powered Pods
Dave Owsen designed these pods to resemble plant cells: autonomous and powered by the sun. The small pods can hold two adults and luggage or one adult and two small children. Passengers can select their destination and route from within the pod. Researchers at MIT even designed an organic dye that concentrates light at the edge of the window where solar cells are waiting to convert it to electricity. Businesses can also use the system to ship packages.
2. The Straddling Bus
What happens when buses can no longer drive on the roads because of too many cars? Drive over them, of course. A Chinese company has actually designed an enormous bus that will do just that. While the bus doesn’t require elevated tracks or tunneling, it does make it easier for people to drive private vehicles—something most urban planners want to discourage. See the bus in action here. The estimated cost is $7.4mn (INR 330mn) for each bus and 25 miles (40.2 kms) of track—one-tenth the cost of building a subway over the same distance.
3. Perpetual Motion
Because a lot of energy and time is wasted when trains stop and start at stations, Taiwanese inventor Peng Yu-lun has designed a train that doesn’t stop. How do passengers board a non-stopping train? Pods – which travel on the roofs of the high-speed trains – would essentially latch onto the train at the station and allow passengers to board and exit the train. One pod is dropped off and another picked up at each station. Certainly the pod presents engineering challenges, but the logic that stopping slows you down is impossible to argue with. See the concept in action here.
4. High-Flying Cables
Martin Angelov, a Bulgarian architect, has created two projects based on moving transportation above the car traffic. Kolelinia looks like a tightrope for bikes but is actually a system of towers and steel cables with a U-shaped rim—essentially to keep the bike tires from slipping out. Kolelinio uses the wire system but has people strapping on battery-powered packs that allow them to zip to popular destinations in the city. The idea wowed crowds at the TEDx conference in Thessaloniki. See the idea in action here.
5. Bicycle Monorail
What was originally an “adventure ride” has become an urban transport idea. Australian Geoffrey Barnett’s bicycle-powered monorail won Google’s Project 10100 in the “Drive Innovation in Public Transport” category last year. While this personal rapid transit (PRT) system – called Shweeb – looks fun and eco-friendly, the infrastructure required seems to outmatch the actual benefit. One kilometer of track costs $1mn (INR 45mn) compared to $2.4mn (INR 107mn) for 1 km of a two-lane urban road. Watch a prototype in action here.
Photo credits: Dave Owsen, Shenzhen Huashi Future Car-Parking Equipment, Peng Yu-lun, Kolelinia and Shweeb