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Q&A With Luca Guala of Systematica on Masdar’s Personal Rapid Transit System

Green Car Congress had an opportunity to follow up with Luca Guala of Systematica to learn more about the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system being applied in Masdar. (Earlier post.) Systematica, a design and engineering firm based in Italy with clients throughout the world, combines a traditional engineering company with an urban planning studio. They are the responsible for providing the system engineering for Masdar’s PRT network.

GCC. What is the range of the PRT before it needs to be recharged and/or how many hours can it operate before recharging?

LG: The current batch of PRT will only serve the [Masdar Institute of Science and Technology] MIST University and a much smaller network. The final vehicle may very well adopt a different technology and it has not been defined yet. The vehicle I have presented at SAE is 2getthere’s cybercar and has a range of 60 km in simulated service in the Masdar network. With a typical simulated stop-go cycle and by putting the vehicle out of service when the batteries reach 20% of their charge, this means about 3-4 hours of continuous service before a long recharge is needed.

This allows all vehicles to be operational at morning peak hour, be removed from service gradually during the day and be all operational again for evening peak. Of course, a different strategy may be adopted for example taking the vehicles off service earlier, and providing a short fast recharge to have the long, slow recharge only at night.

GCC: The PRT will be on its own dedicated level below the pedestrian traffic. Will the PRTs be sharing this space with other vehicles?

LG: No, the space will be exclusive. However, emergency and maintenance manned vehicles will be allowed to enter if necessary, by stopping PRT traffic along their route.

GCC: How much two-dimensional flexibility do they have? Are the PRT’s on a track system, do they follow a certain path? Do they have the ability to follow different paths depending upon traffic?

LG: The system has complete two-dimensional flexibility. As a matter of fact, in an existing application of this technology in the port of Rotterdam for the transport of containers, the vehicles travel on a surface, rather than corridors, by following virtual routes defined by a grid of magnets, rather than rows of magnets as in Masdar.

The vehicles of Masdar are free-ranging on rubber tires and travel on an ordinary bitumen or concrete surface. The vehicles will be given a “task” by the central supervisory system, which generally will be something like: “take your passengers from A to B following the best route according to distance, travel time and traffic”.

They follow a row of magnets in the road, about one magnet every 4m, which allow a periodical correction of trajectory errors. Several supervisory logics are possible, some are “rigid” (once the task is given, it cannot be changed and after start no further communication occurs between vehicle and supervision, unless some emergency takes place) others are “flexible” (both the supervisory system and the vehicle can “ask” to change route, or speed or some other travel parameter). You can find more information on 2getthere’s website:

GCC: What happens if a PRT breaks down? Can I get out and walk? Will I be run down by other PRTs?

LG: Normally, you will be invited to stay in the vehicle and wait for assistance. If your safety is in danger (or if you panic) you can exit the vehicle and walk to the nearest safety exit. All vehicles have object detection systems that will prevent them from running over you. The stranded vehicle from which you have exited will act as a barrier.

GCC: What is the ballpark cost for this system?

LG: I do not have an answer to this question, sorry. The initial system is likely to be expensive because of prototyping issues but the final PRT system promises to be rather cheap compared to mass transit.

The vehicles are not more expensive than small cars once mass production is set up and the “hard” infrastructure is merely a road surface and one magnet (cost = US$5 including fitting) every 4m. The right of way is much narrower than for any comparable mass transit system and of course very little manpower is included in operation costs. The extra costs, compared to mass transit or manned systems, are the supervisory control system, the vehicle-control communication network, the recharging stations and the protected passenger stations.

GCC: Who designed the units, who will manufacture the units and what is Systematica’s role in the operation?

LG: The vehicles and the system for the first batch of 13 vehicles will be manufactured by 2getthere. The design of the vehicle is by Zagato. Systematica is designing the network and doing the traffic simulations.

—Bill Cooke



More fun and more exciting than a toy train set.

Henry Gibson

People should own a large, expensive, highpower automobile, but it should not be driven, at least not very much. It is a piece of magnificent industrial artwork. For existing cities, to get to work or to do local shopping a car should be rented (not leased) for a day or two or perhaps only an hour or two. Nobody would blame you for renting a Smart ForTwo to get from the train station.

If it is still on the internet, you should look up the MAGLEV personal transportation system. Even a non maglev version might be very good.

Our present abilities to shape metals makes unobtrusive elevated systems over present streets and roads possible. Existing elevated rail systems can be extended with structures that let most of the light through. New automatic rail systems can be installed as well. London has a small automatic system. London operated automatic small mail delivery trains in small tunnels for many years long before computers. Elevators are a good starting idea for automatic Horizontils. Univac should have used a Horizontil between its two buildings in St. Paul in 1966; there was a railroad track available.

No vehicle should be full electric. Every battery powered vehicle should have a small engine powered charger even if it is rarely or never used. Butanol could sit in a tank for years as could propane. The main reason for this it to eliminate any talk about any limited range. There is no talk about the limited range of ordinary automobiles. ..HG..

Henry Gibson

From the SkyTran website:

"SkyTran is a revolutionary new personal rapid transit (PRT) system -- a fast, hyper-efficient car you don't need to drive or park. These extremely light (200-pound) vehicles will ride above the traffic on 1-foot-wide "guideways", supported by permanent magnet magnetic levitation (maglev) instead of tires. How fast is it, and how efficient? At a non-stop 100 MPH speed, SkyTran gets an amazing 200 MPG equivalent fuel efficiency, making it both the most convenient and the greenest form of transportation available. Convenient -- cars will be waiting at every station; they merge on and off like freeways so they never need to stop, and they are fully computer-guided so you can relax or work instead of driving, and they park themselves."

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