Right after the first concepts arrived of autonomous vehicles that could revolutionize public transportation, PRTs or Personal Rapid Transit systems have gained a lot of attention. Rightly so, as the technology promises cleaner transportation systems for busy metropolitan cities where residents don’t have much time to spend in traffic jams. A couple of days ago, we discussed about Pininfarina’s PRT and today we have another concept on the same lines, with the inclusion of renewable solar energy.
Designed by Bill James, the JPods system consists of computer-driven, on-demand, electric four to six seat vehicles that are suspended below an overhead rail structure. Why suspended below the rails? Because the designer wants to make use of the rail structure to plant photovoltaic panels that can power the vehicles below. The functioning is simple – the user lets the JPod know about his/her desired destination and then the computer takes over. Right from finding the shortest possible route to the destination to driving the vehicle, all is controlled by the system’s semiconductor brain.
The suspended JPods weight about 500 pound each and can carry a payload of about 1200 pounds at about 260 passenger-miles per gallon. For a safer ride, encoders in the wheels and sensors on the track above, monitor each vehicle to prevent any two JPods from getting too close to each other. While most PRT plans are based on the use of electric pods, the JPods takes another step towards sustainability with the inclusion of photovoltaic panels, which according to the creator can provide anywhere between 5000 and 30,000 vehicle-miles of power per mile of the rail per day.
The best part about the concept is that it isn’t limited to just futuristic paper drawings as James has already created a working prototype to demonstrate the operational aspects. Quite humbly James accepts that the working prototype might not be aesthetically pleasing, considering the fact that it was born in a garage not in one of the biggest coach building factories, but it works and that’s what prototypes are supposed to do. While enjoying in his garage-built JPod, James revealed that production variants of the JPods will likely have electric motors rated up to 6.5kW and will run at speeds up to 30mph, consuming 200wh of electricity per mile.
Like all PRT plans, the JPods concept too will ask for a decent amount of funding. But considering the oil famine, which is imminent, concepts like the JPods are the way forward if we have to maintain a steady pace in our life, without going back to the stone age.