2013 November Green Guru Spotlight: "Beam me up, Scotty!" and other transportation developments!


Beam me up, Scotty!  Many of us are waiting for the time when we can be transported almost instantaneously to our destination, obviating the tedium of commuting and business travel.  Disappointingly, that is still nowhere on the horizon!  However, there are some cutting edge technologies being used in transportation and road design that can somewhat alleviate the daily commute and have been successfully piloted and adopted by cities and corporate/college campuses.

The road that charges an electric vehicle: Limited range is one barrier to wider adoption of electric vehicles.  But if an electric vehicle could get charged while driving or while taking a break at rest areas, it would enable practically unlimited range!  A South Korean city currently has two electric buses that are inductively charged  by cables buried just underneath the road, and plans to introduce more. The “wireless charging” as it is sometimes called, was developed by engineers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and was first thoroughly tested in the institute’s campus shuttles and in trams at an amusement park. Closer to home, earlier this year, EvaTran completed over 1500 hours of wireless charging on its inductive charging installations at car rental agencies, corporate campuses, and utility providers across the US, and is working to develop an affordable system that would enable wireless charging to moving vehicles. Additionally, the US Department of Energy invested $4 million last year in wireless charging with the end goal of developing road-based wireless systems that enable charging EVs while driving.  Road trip redefined!!


Intelligent Roads: Piezoelectric materials have been used in Japan and Israel to convert energy from the vibrations and pressure of footsteps and passing vehicles into power that can be used to light up roads and transit stations. The California Energy Commission is evaluating the use of piezoelectric materials for the state’s roads, which would save money versus conventional lighting and would reduce accidents on roads where lights have been switched off to save money. Some naturally occurring piezoelectric materials are silk, enamel, dentin, crystals etc. Photo-luminescent paint and temperature-reactive paint are being used later this year on a 300-meter stretch of road, dubbed the Smart Highway, in the Netherlands province of Brabant. The photo-luminescent paint will be used to delineate lanes – the paint will glow brightly at night after absorbing sunlight during the day (even if it was cloudy). The purpose of the temperature-reactive paint is to warn drivers of icy conditions by changing from transparent to blue when the temperature drops to below freezing.



Personal Rapid Transit or PRT, is also called a Podcar. Although it is considered a mode of public transport, it is easier to think of it as your personal, on-demand, self-driven car on rails, that can take you and a few of your friends, point to point, without making any stops for other commuters.  There are two PRT systems already operational, one in Masdar City (UAE) which is aiming to be the first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city in the world and the other at London Heathrow airport. There are other systems that are in planning or pilot stages such as the pilot project in Tel Aviv (Israel). The Colorado Department of Transportation, San Jose Department of Transportation and the City of Mountain View are also carefully evaluating PRT as a lower cost, lower footprint alternative to other public transport options. The underlying technology has been around since the seventies as demonstrated by Morgantown, however, to realize what some people consider is the true potential of PRT, will require support at the national level, much as was/is done for roadways and railways. It would be nice for a commuter to be able to say, “Make it so, Podcar!” when needing to get from the train station to the office!


Urban Design: A noteworthy innovation in urban design is the SXSW Eco Awards recipient Town Square Initiative  which won the AutoDesk Sustainable Innovation Award for its NYC design plan where “sustainability is seamlessly incorporated into public space design.” Some highlights from the plan are: designing unused, blighted spaces to generate renewable energy to build a more resilient power grid, building new public spaces that combine greenery with seasonal amenities that bring people together and build a community. There were other creative ideas in the “Place by Design” category at the SXSW Eco Awards that cities and campuses can emulate, such as Future Campus, The Looper, and It’s in the Box, among others. Separately, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), an association of 16 major U.S. cities formed to exchange transportation ideas, insights, and practices has released its Urban Street Design Guide “to showcase how streets can be redesigned to be safe, livable, and supportive of economic activity and development.”  The guide includes traffic management strategies like curb extensions, “green features” such as bioswales and parklets, cycle tracks, and dedicated bus lanes. Many of the principles in the guide can also be used in corporate campuses.

Start a discussion about these transportation related ideas and technologies in your company, college or city and see what you can get people excited about!


Green Guru: Suparna Vashisht, November 2013


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