The increasing intensity in the development of autonomous vehicles and the emergence of new ideas, such as Hyperloop, give new perspectives and wake up past projects that were sacrificed due to a conservatism spirit of key people. New transportation means can and need to be developed in order to reach better performances. The case of Swissmetro in Switzerland is a good example of a new system to complement existing ones. It is a fully underground high capacity solution that has proven to be profitable. Small industrially built tunnels allows for low infrastructure costs and offer a safe environment for automation, reduced pressure in tunnels reduce the energy consumption. The research programme started in the 80’s and its industrial development was about to start in 2000. The project is now owned by the Swiss federal institute of technology in Lausanne, EPFL and new studies are investigating its present potential to complement existing mobility services in a more sustainable manner. It is a good example of an innovation in transport designed with standard existing technologies integrated together.
The need for new processes to make innovation work within a network of mobility services The car has been for more than a century an exceptional mean of transportation with a door-to-door capability. Its development has led to a saturation of road infrastructure. The impossibility to cope with this problem makes the solution of developing mobility services instead of developing car sales more attractive to reduce saturation on roads without having to build new infrastructure, which is increasingly impossible due either to available space or to the limited financing capability of states.
There is therefore a lot of thinking among car manufacturers on how to handle this transition. In the same time, public transport companies already offer a mobility service trying to cope with existing transport solutions, mainly train and buses, even though these systems were not design to solve today’s problems.
The emergence of autonomous cars, shuttles or busses generates new opportunities in this field for both public transportation companies and the manufacturers of such system. This may lead to a competition between private and public interest and will generate an interesting debate between society, private and public administration interests. At the core of the debate should be the systemic view of the function and the evaluation of its sustainability. But not only the function associated with these road transport services, also their integration in the whole mobility services and how people will interact with it. How the user will express his need ? : “I need a car to go from this door to this door at this time” or “I need to go from this door to this door at this time”. The second question allows to chain different mobility services to provide the best compromise in terms of cost, performance and sustainability. The first question limits the sustainable optimization to what a system, that will be obsolete one day, can offer.
Autonomous vehicles also need a societal acceptance with a juridical framework to handle its development and application. The key for it is the safety analysis, which must be at the core of the development of the system and also at the core of its implantation.
In the city of Fribourg (Switzerland), a large-scale transdisciplinary program has been started to experiment automated shuttles, analyse their performances, define implantation criteria and functional requirements and to analyse their safety. The local public transport company TPF (Transports publics fribourgeois) has teamed with MIC (Marly Innovation Center) to connect this innovation center to the station of a bus main line nearby. Since 2017, it is the first automated shuttle in Switzerland that is operated according to a timetable as an extension to the public transport network. The interdisciplinary work combines private companies involved in the project and academic institutions: University of Fribourg, HEIA (School of engineering and architecture, member of the University of applied sciences Western Switzerland) and ROSAS (Robust and safe systems competence center). The outcome is a global view on the system and a coordination of the actions to put in place such an innovative systems and to ensure that the operation will be successful and sustainable. New processes are defined and set to handle this new situation.
The following points can be considered to achieve a sustainable transport system:
- The necessity to innovate, define and create new systems to propose new transport offer that meet sustainable goals.
- The necessity to place safety at the core of these developments and their implantation.
- The requirement to have a global information system linking mobility services to provide a solution by combining appropriate ones for a defined need. The system must be independent of technological solutions used for transport.
- The necessity to work into interdisciplinary team to handle the complexity of the development and implantation of innovations.
We arrive at a very interesting point in the history of transportation where working and innovating together can make us change transportation as it exists today into a more efficient and sustainable one.