Riding a bus may not the most glamorous means of transportation, but that could change.

Nice Ride
TU Delft

Researchers are developing a limo-like mass transit option that picks up commuters near their homes, drives at high speeds on a dedicated track, and then slows to normal road speeds when it switches over to city streets.

The creators of the streamlined Superbus say it could not only elevate the status of the bus by promising riders a relaxing, hi-tech, and luxurious environment, but could also get people where they’re going in a fast, convenient, and fuel-efficient manner.

"All of the smartness is in the vehicle," said Wubbo J. Ockels, professor and general manager of the AeroSpace for Sustainable Engineering and Technology program at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands. His team was recently awarded 7 million euros by the country’s government to develop the vehicle.

"It receives requests by Internet or SMS. It then collects and gathers those people who are going roughly at the same time and to the same destination," said Ockels, who is working with former Formula 1 designer Antonia Terzi and aerospace engineer Joris Melkert to develop a prototype in time for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Unlike conventional buses and other forms of public transportation that have set schedules and routes, the Superbus will be flexible. Its schedules and pickup locations will be based entirely on the people who need rides. Software will optimize the journeys, finding the fastest, most efficient path for a group of riders.

Rubber tires allow Superbus to drive on conventional roads — thereby offering near-home pickup — and a low-profile, racecar-like design gives it the aerodynamics to achieve speeds of 155 mph on a 10-foot concrete track — thereby offering fast service.

While on the dedicated track, the vehicle’s frame will zoom along just a few inches above the ground. In the city, the bus will rise up to a foot off the ground.

During summer, the sun’s heat on the road surface will be captured and stored in the track by a closed water piping system. During winter, the saved heat will be used to keep the track surfaces snow- and ice-free.

The Superbus will have an electric engine, and will be made from materials like carbon and plastics that can be recycled after the vehicle retires.

Commuters will also be able to improve the vehicle’s eco-friendly status by adjusting their trip times and destinations. For example, when making a reservation, a rider will be able to see the trip choices of her fellow Superbus companions and the impact the overall group ride will have on the environment. She might see that leaving 5 minutes earlier and getting picked up a little bit further away will use less energy and have less impact on the environment.

During the ride, passengers will be treated to comforts such as comfy seats, wireless Internet, and privacy.

"They should be commended for taking something that is not very glamorous and trying to elevate it to a higher level from a technological point of view and also from a style point of view," said Ryan Chin, a design leader in Smart Cities Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab.

But, said Chin, it will be difficult to achieve a customized route for each passenger while at the same offering a fast travel time.

"If you want to minimize the number of pickups, then you don’t get people to their final destinations or close to it," said Chin.

Ockels and his team will be testing those considerations and other once the prototype is finalized in 2008. They plan to implement the concept in the Netherlands by 2015.

Via: Discovery Channel