At Micro-AV, we believe that one tool for halting climate change is a self-driving robot taxi that is based on a trike instead of an automobile. Urban transportation needs to be about moving people, not vehicles.
The technological and social systems to support full robot taxis are in the future, perhaps 2025. However, we are working on a less ambitious option that can be deployed with today’s technology.
The MilliPod is an urban road train in which the lead vehicle is operated manually. Two-person fully automated pods platoon behind bumper-to-bumper. The MilliPod never stops for passengers. Riders choose their destination, pay their fares, and seat themselves in a pod parked at the bus stop. The pod joins onto the next passing platoon and follows it until the destination.
Imagine a future where most vehicles are automated and connected. Traffic moves through the city at a steady 30 mph (50 km/h) with no stop and go. Traffic accidents are rare. A motorcycle is almost as safe as an SUV. The distinction between public transportation and private transportation has evaporated. Most trips are done by phoning for a self-driving taxi. Do the vehicles of the future look like today’s automobiles? We say no.
Physics puts a limit on vehicle efficiency. It takes the same amount of energy to move a road vehicle whether it is powered by gasoline, electricity, or muscle. The benefits of electric cars are reduced if they depend on coal or natural gas power plants. The average American male weighs 190 lb. (86 kg); the average American car 4000 lb. (1800 kg). Transportation energy should move people, not vehicles.
When travelling at 30 mph, a car typically needs 31 kW. Car-pools or mass transit use 6 to 7 kW per person. An e-bike or e-trike only needs 1.7 kW. If the trike is wrapped with a light-weight shell to provide weather protection and streamlining, energy needs drop to 0.64 kW. An automated streamlined e-trike moving at the same speed as the car uses 48 times less energy. The e-trike can be powered by a 25 lb. (11 kg) battery instead of 500 to 1000 lb. (230-450 kg) for an electric car. A light battery can be swapped out at a refueling station, eliminating range anxiety. A bank of batteries can be recharged whenever the sun shines or the wind blows. Renewable energy can run a huge chunk of transportation. Americans drive 3T miles (5T km) per year, but 65% of those trips are urban, and the average trip is less than 12 miles (20 km).
Micro-mobiles, such as our automated e-trike, are the last mile solution to gridlock. In many cases, they can cover the middle miles as well.
Half of U.S. commuting trips are less than 12 miles (20 km). Typical urban car speeds are 15-28 mph (24-45 km/h); urban light rail moves at 16-29 mph (26-47 km/h). Micro-vehicles can follow Personal Rapid Transit technology to move from origin to destination on reserved guide-ways with no stops. If operated at 30 mph (50 km/h), Micro-vehicles are faster than the alternatives. Additionally, small, automated vehicles can move 2-3x more people per lane than cars due to space efficiency.
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