City Planning

Packet Switching for Mobility: Bringing It All Together in the Smart City

In earlier articles, we advocated applying some of the principles of packet switching, the backbone technology of Internet and telecom, to mobility and transport. After all, the similarity is clear. Packets carry bits and vehicles carry people and goods. Let’s now describe a scenario whereby all elements are brought together.

First of all, we assume a reference environment whereby conventional vehicles (with internal combustion engines) are banned for entering the city unless there is no alternative. For examples heavy equipment and large moving trucks are not easily replaced with current electric equivalents. Depending on the city, public transport might still be available. This is less likely for small and older cities, but more likely for large metropoles. Important is that all transport is offered at real cost as else the best mix of mobility solutions is not likely to emerge.

People will most likely enter the city using public transport (e.g. by train or metro) or by car whereby they leave their big road vehicles at a large parking before entering city walls.  Upon entering the city perimeter, people call up an app on their smartphone, enter their destination and a central server gives them all the options: public transport, taxibots or they can rent a small city e-vehicle, like KURT. The latter vehicles come in 2 shapes. One is 60 cm wide; the second one is 120 cm wide. They can move one or two people with a lot of cargo or two or four people with small cargo.

Trucks and vans also stop at the distribution centers located at each large road entering the city. Unless too large, bulk goods or brought into or out of the city using standardized containers that fit on the KURT vehicles platforms. They come in two standardized sizes making it easy to stack them.

At the city entry point there is a continuous stream of KURT vehicles. Some come back from the city center, some leave. Cargo and people transport is mixed and depending on the demand the KURT superstructure can be swapped between a cargo container and people “cabin”. The latter can be optionally shared with the renting fee depending on the number of occupied seats or on the cargo being transported. This promotes the full use of the vehicle.

At these concentration points, the vehicles are quickly checked before they are boarded and start their journey through the city. They drive mostly autonomously at a limited speed. Whenever an unforeseen situation happens, a central dispatcher can take over using the on-board vehicle cameras while communicating with the passengers. When the vehicle arrives on its destination, it can be rented by another passenger and charge itself while waiting at the parking loading point. Given that the vehicles are small, each building provides the electricity and the owner gets a small fee on the electricity used. Some have solar panels on the roof or charge a buffering battery during the night when electricity charges are lower.

As the KURT vehicles are small, the road can handle twice as many as before and as they move around all the time, a lot of space is freed up for pedestrians, social activities and a lot more green. Music plays in the city only occasionally disturbed by a heavy vehicle. The air is clean. The smart city does not feel like a techno-hub, but one where technology operates in the background and non-intrusively provides the services that are needed in a sustainable, greener city.

What do you think? Can such a system work? Does it need to be scaled to e.g. Europe wide? Or just kept locally? What are the main obstacles? What are the benefits and opportunities?

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

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