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February 04, 2009

Toward City Scale Robotic Car Systems: Abu Dhabi Trackless Podcar City, Robotic Warehouses


This is a rendering of the vision of Masdar City. A small army of workers and heavy equipment currently inhabit the 6.5 square kilometer site of the future eco-city.

Abu Dhabi will be making a podcar, personal rapid transit, system in its new Masdar City.

The PRT vehicles will travel at speeds of approximately 7 meters per second, with the longest routes in the city being perhaps 2.5 km. So let’s say you reach a station, wait maybe 1.5 minutes for your car to arrive, travel for 5 minutes if your destination is relatively far away, and then exit the station, which will take around a minute. So the longest trips in the city will be around 7, perhaps 10 minutes long.

Masdar City have decided to do away with cars altogether, instead opting for a light rail line that will bisect the city and personal rapid transit, (PRT), a system utilizing driverless “podcars”. Masdar city will have 50,000 residents and another 50,000 will commute to work inside the city. Masdar City is currently being constructed on a 2.5 square mile site 11 miles east-south-east of the United Arab Emirates’ capital Abu Dhabi.

Initially, the system will be very simple, with only a couple of stations. During this period, the system will function kind of like an elevator – you press a button and go to the third floor. Think of it as a horizontal lift. Later on it will be more sophisticated, and passengers will be able to get within 100 meters of any destination.

The podcars will not run on tracks, but will operate within a kind of grid network, and take the shortest paths to get where they need to be. The cars will have wheels, and will be battery powered.






Robotic Warehouses

Warehouses run by Gap, as well as Zappos and Staples now use autonomous robots to pluck products from their shelves and send them to you. The robots, which in the largest distribution center currently number over 500, are built by a small company called Kiva Systems (no relation to the microfinance outfit). In total, they've installed more than 1,000 bots at a dozen warehouses and are growing quickly. By the end of this year, they expect single locations to have systems with 1,000 of the machines.



A recent report by the International Federation of Robotics found that 6.5 million robots serve humanity around the world. Still, most of them are standalone or primarily operated by human beings. Kiva robots are different: They're both autonomous and networked.

What that means for workers in the warehouse is that the Henry Ford-era distribution system of the conveyor belt has been broken into pieces and distributed across the entire operation.








This site believes that electric powered exclusive robotic car zones in cities would make future transportation cleaner and more efficient.

This is a plan to enable the safe early deployment of robotic cars, trucks and buses. The robotic car only zones can start off smaller with 10-100 cars covering 10X10 blocks or so and then expanding as the system is proven. Public transportation would be cheaper and better and enable the start of complete shift to completely robotic driven cars which would be safer than current human driven cars and a reorganization of transportation to be cleaner, cheaper and safer without sacrificing time or convenience.


438 mpg hybrid commuter robotic planes and all electric planes could be easier to rollout and provide faster commutes. The key is to make them use GPS navigation (plug in the address) and have it automatically fly the passenger. There are only 250,000 pilots (including small plane and sport plane) in the United States. A shift to a safe robotic plane system would need no passenger involvement in the flying other than selecting destinations.

The cars and planes could be mixed with planes that can drive on roads. If the planes could not drive on roads then they would need very short takeoff and landing so that the system would not get bogged down with people flying too and from airports and then connecting a ground transport system to get to the exact destination.


Roadable planes are undergoing flight tests now and should be on sale next year. They will cost about $148,000 and will not be robotically flown.

FURTHER READING
Brad Templeton has a large collection of articles on robocars.

This site has looked at Brad's robocar ideas before

General Motors was trying to make robot driven cars for 2018

The US military has thousands of UAVs and will be spending $2.6 to 3.5 billion per year acquiring more from now to 2019.
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