A UK start-up has unveiled what claims to be the world’s first driverless, zero-emission mass transit technology, made up of autonomous electric ‘pods’ able to travel on both road and rail.
Urban.Mass said its Floc technology will combine door-to-door on-demand ride-hailing transport with high frequency, accessible and sustainable mass transit to provide zero-emission passenger and cargo journeys across cities.
The world’s first fully operational site is planned to open in 2025 at the National Railway Museum, Locomotion, in Shildon, north east England, which is 200 years after the same site hosted the world’s first passenger steam engine, Stephenson’s Locomotion.
10 cities by 2030
The start-up said that a ‘rapid’ global roll-out will follow, seeing at least 10 cities adopt the technology by 2030. Cities in the UK, Europe, North America, Middle East, and Africa are reportedly in discussions with the company and the Ugandan capital of Kampala is expected to host the first city-scale project. Urban.Mass has received support from the Ugandan government to deliver the project, which will be capable of carrying up to 16,000 passengers in each direction on each of the proposed routes. Cities identified in the UK as suitable for deployment include Bristol, Liverpool, Cambridge, Oxford, and Cardiff.
Urban.Mass claims its technology is designed to be significantly cheaper and quicker to construct, with a much smaller physical footprint than conventional metro rail, light rail and tram projects.
“We should be using solutions of the twenty-first century, to serve the new-breed of cities we see today – cities that are built for people, not polluting vehicles”
“Cities are changing like never before – populations are exploding but the way we move people around hasn’t changed in over a century,” said Kevin O’Grady, CEO of Urban.Mass. “Victorian-era rail and road technologies weren’t designed for the demands of modern life and yet worldwide we continue to rely on the same basic, expensive, and carbon-intensive system.
“We should be using solutions of the twenty-first century, to serve the new-breed of cities we see today – cities that are built for people, not polluting vehicles.”
The Urban.Mass Floc technology deploys hundreds of lightweight, driverless, zero emission electric pods to collect passengers from anywhere in a city using ground-level tracks or existing road networks. To traverse the most congested areas of urban centres at high speeds, the pods elevate to an above-ground Duo Rail track via Urban.Mass stations, all without passengers having to leave the pod.
The pods can ‘flock’ together into connected trains or run individually depending on demand. This means Floc can deliver high frequency peak capacity on dense routes and also provide economically viable services on less dense routes or during off-peak times.
The elevated Duo Rail track, powered by overhead solar canopies, can run above existing roads and infrastructure, giving a physical footprint 70 per cent smaller than a typical urban light rail system. This allows infrastructure to ‘tiptoe’ through dense urban areas, minimising the need to demolish buildings or dig expensive tunnel networks, while allowing space for roads, green corridors, cycle paths or pedestrian zones below.
“Cities are changing like never before – populations are exploding but the way we move people around hasn’t changed in over a century”
Using a pop-up construction, each prefabricated section of Duo Rail track can be installed in a matter of days, the start-up claims. This flexible and modular design means new sections can be easily and quickly added or adapted to meet the changing demands of cities as they develop.
To support its rapid global growth, Urban.Mass has already signed partnership agreements with Grimshaw architectural design company – transport architects and engineers which has developed major mass transit projects worldwide – and WSP – one of the world’s largest engineering professional services consultancies which acted as engineers on the new London Bridge Station in the UK.
As well as its railway heritage, Shildon was also chosen due to its ability to demonstrate how Floc Duo Rail will navigate a number of obstacles, including a road bridge, existing railway line and public walkway, demonstrating the flexibility of the technology.
The site will consist of three stations. The first is at ground level, allowing passengers to board pods and travel on tarmac. The second is situated on an above-ground Duo Rail track allowing high-speed travel which traverses physical obstacles below.
The third station, equidistant between the other two, enables pods to transfer between the ground-level and the above-ground track to demonstrate how future door-to-door road transport can be combined with mass transit rail to reduce congestion.