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ARPA-E tackles multi-modal transportation with approximately $10M in funding for TRANSNET

ARPA-E is making approximately $10 million in funding available for a new program, TRANSNET (Traveler Response Architecture using Novel Signaling for Network Efficiency in Transportation), designed to optimize energy efficiency in multi-modal, urban transportation networks (e.g. personal vehicles, buses, light rail, etc.).

In 2013, the United States used more than 25% of its energy supply for the purpose of moving people and goods from one place to another, the agency noted. Even modest improvements that reduce transportation energy consumption can reduce energy imports and greenhouse gas emissions, two of ARPA-E’s primary goals.

To date, technologies directed at transportation have focused primarily on the diversification of energy supplies (e.g., the production of alternative liquid fuels and electrification) or on improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency (e.g., combustion efficiency, weight reduction, and aerodynamic design). The TRANSNET program takes an alternative, complementary approach through the development of technologies that target both the factors that drive energy consumption and the overall energy efficiency of personal transportation, without changing the mechanical efficiency of each mode (car, bus, train, etc.) within the network.

The time is ripe for this new approach. Today, personal transportation is entering a period of rapid change, enabled by the introduction of new technologies. Such technologies apply not only to the vehicles themselves (e.g., autonomous/semiautonomous vehicles, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V)/vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications, and electric/natural gas fueled vehicles), but also to a number of approaches that enable transportation information to be collected and disseminated by wireless communication and the Internet (e.g., Waze, Uber, Zipcar, and Lyft, as well as social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.). How can these innovative technologies be used to reduce energy use in transportation networks? The answer is not completely clear. But ARPA-E envisions significant opportunities for new and emerging technologies, with deliberate and thoughtful development, to create a framework for a practical system with real- time response to make energy efficiency an integral part of the optimized transportation network of the future.

—TRANSNET concept paper

ARPA-E asserts that the transportation network can be made more efficient, without substantial investment in new infrastructure, improvements in modal efficiency, or perceptible reduction in either the quality-of-service or the reliability of the system.

Transnet1
Energy used in personal transportation by mode and efficiency. For each mode, values are based on CY2011. Source: ARPA-E. Click to enlarge.

ARPA-E is challenging applicants to develop mechanisms for individual travelers to signal and to guide them toward improvement of the energy efficiency of the transportation network in multimodal urban areas.

Rather than seeking a purely experimental, complete analysis of the transportation network—which would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming—ARPA-E is looking to for the development of simulated network control models of energy use in personal transportation, based on real-world data, that incorporate personalized signaling and guiding mechanisms.

A suitable model will need to describe the current state of the personal transportation network and to predict the impact of changes to the network, both from travelers’ choices, such as mode and departure time, and from network changes, such as those that result from incidents and lane closures.

The model must also be robust with respect to inaccuracies that stem from incomplete and noisy sensor data. Optimization will require development of a high fidelity system model that allows guidance and control hypotheses to be tested, refined, or discarded in full view of this uncertainty. These hypotheses will be embodied through simulation to achieve ARPA-E’s core objective—a control architecture that enables the practical network control through personalized guidance. The design of this control architecture defines the central challenge of the TRANSNET program.

The TRANSNET funding opportunity solicits the development and testing of new network optimization approaches entirely in a simulation environment. The primary objectives are twofold:

  1. To demonstrate that energy efficiency gains are possible through implementable control architectures; and

  2. To identify key technology gaps that limit such implementation. A second phase program (if pursued) would involve real-world validation of the system model and trial implementation of the network control architecture developed in the initial phase of TRANSNET.

A second phase will only be considered if significant positive impact is demonstrated during the course of the awards made through this FOA.

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