An innovation in public transport developed by a former astronaut and an F1 designer could be the solution for European medium distance travel.
In the 1920s, the Greyhound buses made it possible for people to explore the USA well before cars became a common household item. They were considered a fast way to travel long distance, but after almost a century that image has long gone. Nowadays a bus is associated with a noisy and slow moving exhaust spewing cramped box jam packed with unhappy passengers.
Think different, proclaimed Dutch Wubbo Ockels, fomer astronaut and professor for sustainable engineering and technology, in 2004 he set out to develop a completely different kind of animal. No longer named a greyhound as it would be much faster; the superbus of the future should drive 250 km/h with 23 passengers.
Fast forward to 2012 and watch a prototype driving around for demonstrations all over the world. Imagine a stretch limo combined with the aerodynamics of a Formula 1 car and you have a pretty decent picture of the superbus. You travel in style with no less than 16 gull wing doors for individual comfort. The commuting speed is limited to 250 km/h but the designers say that its actual top speed is above 300 km/h.
What about emissions? Forget about the diesel exhaust, as the vehicle is powered by electric motors which smartly use regenerative breaking to limit the energy impact to even less than alternatives like high speed or magnetic levitation trains. By using all the knowledge of former BMW F1 head of aerodynamics Antonia Terzi, the lightweight carbon fiber sleek vehicle will have a driving range of 210 km before it needs to be plugged in again.
The combination of extremely low drag aerodynamics and electric motors will make it ideal for travelling through urban areas as there is no need for noise shields surrounding highways in densely populated areas. The new vehicle uses rubber tires so it can drive on every road, but to reach its top speed it needs a dedicated concrete lane.
This is the main innovation of this public transport vehicle. It will pick you up at your door at normal city speed and only when it reaches its own race track will it accelerate to top speed. Ockels and his team worked it all out: no need to wait for a bus in the rain, simply use your smartphone to command it to your location and you will be picked up limousine-style.
After the passengers are collected with the help of smart logistic software, the bus will rapidly reach its long distance location. On the way, you will have television and internet available, so you will be able to entertain yourself or get some work done on the daily commute.
The comfort will be comparable to a modern day luxury SUV and thanks to the 16 doors you avoid the cramped feeling of a typical autobus. More space than in a plane, lower costs for infrastructure compared to high speed trains and delivery from door to door. Imagine never having to wait again on airports, stations and bus stops.
The superbus will be driven by a human in the cities, but the moment it reaches its high speed lane the computer will take over. With advanced radar systems detecting obstacles and a braking distance of 200 meters at top speed, itis envisioned that the buses can drive at 6 seconds apart from each other.
This has caused some criticism in the road safety world as the normal rule is to keep vehicles apart by twice their braking distances. However the super bus team considers this a relic of the past as the lane will only be used by other superbuses with identical speeds and capabilities.
As the bus has been developed in the Netherlands as an alternative for a proposed long distance trajectory there, changing weather circumstances have been central in the design. Where needed, the dedicated lane will be heated by solar energy to get rid of snow. Advances in ABS and the dedicated electric engines per wheel were good enough to survive a recent February test on a snow covered test track so it can travel safely in all weather conditions.
The prototype of the superbus is doing demonstrations all over the world and the Dutch government backed consortium tries to interest commercial clients from all over the world and has developed a plan for the United Arab Emirates to use the bus to connect Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This 120 km distance connects two cities which attract large numbers of tourists.
Currently, it takes close to two hours to travel by bus and the distance is too short for flying as the check-in and out would make the trip longer, more expensive and of course extremely taxing on the environment. Dutch Wubbo Ockels and Italian F1 specialist Antonia Terzi foresee a dedicated lane connecting the two popular tourist attractions. No decision has been taken yet, but the authorities can see the huge advantages to alleviate the current pollution and traffic jam problems.
The trip would take 30 minutes and would no doubt be a tourist highlight. A similar plan has been developed for the Netherlands where a feasibility study has been done, but in the end the whole project to connect the two areas was sidelined.
A chance to travel at 250 km/h in a 15 meter long Ferrari with the comfort of an expensive SUV and at the cost of a train ticket. Would you miss out on it? A good idea for medium distance transport in Europe?
http://www.superbusproject.com with numerous videos
Driving and braking in the snow Feb. 2012 Superbus in the snow