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“Ultra-Narrow Modular Urban Transportation System”

A family of vehicles for 1 to 6 passengers with less than half the width of a car, and with capability to "follow" each other automously.

Photo of Javier Mejia
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BACKGROUND

Mobility in Mexico City has become one of the biggest challenges both for government and for citizens, mixed with insecurity it becomes the one single largest contributor to life quality deterioration, as well as generator of stress, anxiety and unhealthy way of life. On the next few lines we will analyze some of the terrifying data that driven our team to develop this proposal.

According to INEGI data, the Mexico City has an area of 1,495 km2 that represents only

0.1% of the country´s total area, however it has (by far) the largest population in the country thus resulting in an incredibly high population density, and if we take a quick look on the number of vehicles increase rate over the last few years it´s easy to explain the traffic: the amount of vehicles in the LMA (Larger Mexico Area) has grown 600% from that in the year 2000, with some specific counties like Ecatepec moving from 147k to 1.42M vehicles over only 19 years, similarly the amount of registered vehicles in the very Mexico City has more than doubled in the same period, going from 2.21M to 4.6M vehicles.

The LMA reports 34.56 million trips per week, where 11.15 million trips are exclusively

walking, 15.57 million trips are made by public transport, and approximately 6.6 million trips are

made by car, with an average occupancy of 1.5 people, this is one of the keys for the

development of our project. We need to reduce or eliminate the unoccupied seats from the streets! Moving the actual passengers would only create only a fourth part of traffic, energy waste, time and problems.  It is estimated that road congestion in Mexico City and its metropolitan area generates time losses equivalent to 33 mxn millions per year.

In 2011, IBM published a “Transfer Pain Index” where Mexico City sadly obtained the highest rating, which implies the worst urban mobility in the world. Based on surveys, the study found that delays in transfers of more than two hours are common, and that oscillating flows make drivers desperate.

Nowadays cars must be smaller, cleaner, shared and autonomous. This will imply a reduction in the social and environmental costs of its use: less space used, greater security, less vehicle fleet, lower emissions, etc. Reinforcing the right to mobility of the whole population through a system with coverage, quality and affordable prices is an excellent guiding principle for public mobility and transport decisions. The inevitable technological innovation must take place within this framework, otherwise we will miss a great opportunity to build an equitable and sustainable city.

                THE IDEA

                What if we can make 2 cars fit into the space of one? Now what if we can make 4 or 6 cars fit into the space of one? On top of that, what if we can remove the “safety” distance to the car in front of us? what if we can remove the delay to start from a stop light where the tenth car in the line will see the light turn red again before even start moving? What if we can remove the “low speed” impacts that create more traffic always at worst time possible? What if people can sleep or do something productive during most of their commuting time while seating at their very own car even in the driver seat? Well… we´ll provide answer to all of these answers,  among others.

            The UMUTS (Ultra-Narrow Modular Urban Transportation System”) is an idea inspired by the “2019 FORD City:One Challenge”, and though it has been primarily conceived for the Mexico City it can be useful for most highly populated cities around the world as it is explained in the following lines.

            The two main characteristics that differentiate this concept from others presented to the challenge and generally from those existing around the world are included in the very name of the concept and can be described as follows: “Ultra-Narrow” refers to a transportation system with less than half the width of the average passenger vehicle, providing unrivaled capabilities to move around, park, store etc.  while “Modular” refers to both a modular architecture which enables a wide variety of vehicles to be built upon the main basic structure and also to an intrinsic characteristic of the vehicles to “add-up” or interconnect among them to create a far more efficient transportation system creating a kind of train. Despite the fact it`s all about transportation density and efficiency, it includes a whole lot of innovations expected to change the urban mobility for once and for ever, including safety, convenience, security, accessibility, etc.

            To enable this transportation system we have developed a concept of electric vehicles family for 1, 2 and up to 6 people but always having a maximum total width of 87cm (34in), thus the extra passengers are always seating behind each other, but every seating position has its own access doors basically keeping each passenger in a private and personal cocoon which prevents from a variety of hazards commonly found in public transportation including but not limited to sexual assault, violence, kidnapping, accidents, etc. The idea of having single-person transportation option is to provide a “last mile” solution for those whose daily commuting is done by themselves and still want to have the freedom of an “always available” car, whereas the 6 people units are designed to provide a highly efficient public defined-route transportation system, with an obvious mix of requirements satisfied by the other units in the middle of the architecture. The principle behind making such narrow vehicles is in first place to make them smaller, but principally to enable the creation of specific lanes mostly using the already existing streets. Now it comes the second part of the “Modularity” concept, every vehicle in the family has the ability to connect physically with a leading and/or a following vehicle, creating a sort of train that is guided only by the leading car but each vehicle is powered by itself. This enables a collaboration between public and private transportation system in which any privately owned vehicle can be attached to the public “train” at a super-low cost and be “trailed” up to the closest stop to his destiny to then be driven only for the rest of the travel, so for example any private owner requiring to travel a total of 30 miles can drive one mile from his house to the closest public station, then be trailed for 28 miles and then drive again for one mile to reach his final destination or even be trailed by a family member or coworker with same final destination, this enables him to do a more productive task during the “autonomous commuting”, since he doesn`t need to worry about steering, accelerating or breaking, and also creates a far more efficient transportation since all vehicles move at the same time instead of depending on the reaction of each human driver; the rest of people who don`t (or can`t) drive at all still can use the 6-people public cars in the “train” to commute from point “A” to “B”.

            Now that the general idea has been briefly described we`ll get down to some specifics and details of the entire system:

  • THE PLATFORM.
  •  An “app” will be developed to work as a hub for all the benefits of the system, however any given user would be able to use the public transportation mode by using only the already available “CDMX Unique Transportation Card” yet missing some of the useful available benefits, private users would also use their vehicles with most of the benefits but not gaining full advantage of the system. Some of the key features are:
  •  App shows the user a map with all the surrounding public vehicles, specially the defined-route incoming “trains”, showing how long will it take to arrive to the desired station, the amount of available seats and whether it`s equipped with specialty cars (handicapped, bike-carrying, large storage, etc.)
  •  Different ownership models are available in the same platform, vehicles can be merely public transportation, privately owned, on-demand sharing, pool sharing or rented to be driven for any given time/mileage like eco-bikes.
  •  System would use the already existing infrastructure in the city like roads, parking lots, stop lights, etc. it would only be preferable to stablish priority or exclusive lanes in certain avenues as required.
  •  There may be delimitated areas where this system can have specific lanes (single and/or twin), special areas (e.g. historic center) and also restricted areas like highways with no specific lanes.
  •  App would show the battery charge status on all surrounding vehicles available for rent.
  •  Most of the app functionality as well as the rest of the infrastructure would be available with voice commands and alerts to enhance the experience for people with reduced vision capabilities.
  •  It´s a highly convenient solution for any given city since it`s scalable (can include from 1 to N vehicles, lines, lanes, types, etc.) it`s shared funded (investment comes from both particulars and government) it`s immediately implementable (doesn`t really requires any disruptive infrastructure or installations) it`s clean (since it`s electric, light and compact as it will be further explained later) it`s sustainable (operating costs can be drastically reduced by advertising and sponsorships programs to be described later)
  •  All of the vehicles are way much more accessible than any existing solution for handicapped, elder or any other user since it doesn`t require stairs, steps, climbing, or walking isles in order to get to your seats.
  •  Panic buttons in vehicles and other infrastructure like stops or charging stations work together with other features in the system to provide unequaled security to users and operators.
  • Public stops will be equipped with sound systems to assist those with reduced vision capability and also to keep informed to all users.
  • System is so robust that can lead to some other future developments like companies buying or renting this type of vehicles for specific purposes like corporate or school transportation.
  • App allows crowd voting to create new stops, new routes or new services.
  • Advertising would be available in different type and scales, from naming a given line after an important sponsor, painting cars with any brand`s image, placing advertising in cars, stops and other infrastructure, advertising in the app, social media, special promos to win free transportation, etc.)
  • The app will have a recognition and rewards program where the users can score points by collaborating to enhance the transportation system and the mobility in general, with actions like feeding traffic updates, reporting potholes or malfunction of stoplights and other services, offering spare seats for pool sharing, while the points would be also transferable among users to recognize outstanding behaviors, so for example if somebody assists an elder people to change a flat tire the assisted people can recognize the helper by transferring a given amount of points or medals.
  • There will be ECO-charging stations powered either by wind, sun, or both and those would be free for those users with top levels of contribution in the app.
  • There would be some new infrastructure like ultra-high density parking lots, where more cars would fit in the same area, and on top of that given the low weight and height there might be inexpensive multilevel parking lots, and it´s important to say that 10% of the profit created by this program would be reinvested into public infrastructure to help general mobility in the city.
  • THE CARS
  • BASIC SPECS:
  • 2.1) The basic architecture is built upon a tubular steel structure working both as a frame and body structure, responsible as well for most of the crash worthiness. The total track is 87cm (34in) and a wheelbase going from 100cm (40in) in the personal vehicle up to 200cm in the 6 people vehicle, the total height is 158cm and with all these general dimensions the seating position result enough to accommodate a Mexican 99th male percentile.
  • 2.2) The powertrain on most of the vehicles of the family consists of electric motor(s) and a set of batteries from different technologies depending on the vehicle capacity and trim level, since the main purpose of the vehicles is to provide only urban mobility the driving range is only around 30 miles, this combined with the lightweight of the vehicles results in a lightweight package of batteries that can be charged simply by plugging the car into an standard 115v AC power outlet.
  • 2.3) The handling and stability of the vehicles has been kept in mind through all the design process, and it´s basically assured by the following considerations: the center of gravity has been designed to be as low as possible, including the battery packages always at the floor pan level and the seating position also as low as possible; the top speed of the vehicles will stay under 30mph, the turning angle of the front wheels is progressive so it prevents from generating aggressive lateral accelerations, the suspension system has been designed to sacrifice a little the ride but enabling a great handling with almost no body roll during cornering.
  • 2.4) To prevent the single-person cars from making “stoppies” under heavy braking the brake balance has been biased rearwards and the front wheels are not capable of locking on normal road surface, in a similar fashion the calibration of the engine will be such that prevents these cars cannot make “wheelies” under maximum acceleration in the RWD vehicles.
  • 2.5) Safety for the occupants and people around de vehicles have also been considered and despite the reduced size of the vehicles we have created a sort of survival cell, which definitely provides far better crash worthiness than bike-taxis, golf car taxis, bikes, etc.
  • SPECIAL FEATURES
  • 2.6) The “Trailing” feature can consist of a mechanical or merely electrical interconnection that can be made between two cars upon the acceptance of both of them, in such way that the car in the front becomes the only driver and the car or cars behind are only following and/or replicating the instructions of the leading car, using their own power, brakes and systems at all times. This allows to create a sort of train that moves several vehicles in an “autonomous” manner from point A to B, while all of the vehicles remain able to detach at any “train” stop. This opens a window to a whole new world of collaboration, pooling and sharing, since for example a group of friends working and living in nearby areas can attach together their vehicles having only one driver and then detach whenever they need to in order to continue to their very own destination.
  • 2.7) For the public transport models there are separate doors for every passenger, so each one is basically contained within his/her own personal cocoon, providing unrivaled security for all passengers from thieves, and also giving peace of mind to women and other vulnerable social groups since they simply cannot be touched, assaulted or disturbed in any way.
  • 2.8) There will be two different alternatives for handicapped people in wheelchairs, in the public transport there will be a certain percentage of vehicles with space in the last seating position to ride fully seated in a wheel chair, having a ramp to board from behind and then a safety latching system to stay safe during the ride, the second option would be for private ownership model, and would be a personal vehicle fully drivable from a wheelchair with all controls operated by hand, accessibility to the cockpit would also be provided by a ramp from behind.
  • 2.9) There might be options with extra cargo area to allow the passengers to travel with bulky luggage at a different rate, there would also be options of vehicles with huge storage compartments available for private ownership like pickups or delivery vehicles.
  • 2.10) Every vehicle´s roof will have a solar panel to contribute to battery charging during parking and commuting.
  • 2.11) There would be special towing vehicles for long distances, connecting the extremes of the city for example from north to south, those vehicles would be powered by diesel engines and on top of towing the UMUTS they would offer battery recharge.
  • 2.12) Every vehicle either private or public will be equipped with panic buttons (one per seating position in public versions) activating lights and sounds to aware people around and also triggering an alert to the security central (CDMX C5).
  • 2.13) Every vehicle will be equipped with a 360° camera recording always the last 3 running minutes, freezing the recording only after a crash or a panic button event.
  • 2.14) Given the privacy and toughness of the interiors the UMUTS public units would be pet friendly, since there are many times people need to take pets with them or to the vet.
  • 2.15) All the vehicles would be equipped with a “360° bumper” made with tough rubber or plastic, to allow close interaction with no further damage thus preventing from creating huge traffic jams just because of minor low speed contacts that create daily traffic with today´s cars.
  • 2.16) The public transport version will have an occupancy status light, to easily tell people outside what seating positions are available.
  • 2.17) The public vehicles would have a sensing system to prevent drivers from depart before all passengers are fully seated, it would use the already available occupancy sensor plus a seating sensor, in such way that if the occupancy sensor detects somebody is entering or exiting the cockpit and the seating sensor does not detect the weight of the passenger it will send both the driver and passenger an alert and prevent the vehicle from moving during 5 seconds, during that time passenger should either hurry to seat safely or hit the panic button to say something´s wrong.

            While most of the highlights for this transportation system have been covered in the previous paragraphs there´s still a lot more to see, we certainly hope to have the opportunity to continue this idea description and perfecting it beside the City:One Ford Mobility Challenge crew during the “Refine Phase”, thanks for reading.


TACKLING THE CHALLENGE OPPORTUNITIES:

  • Neighborhood Mobility. The modular system would offer unrivaled convenience to those who daily commute from the periphery to the Mexico City and back again, they would either use their own car or public car and get to the destination without even need to drive.
  • Sexual violence prevention. The personal cocoon in the public versions absolutely eliminates the possibility of somebody assaulting, touching or even watching women during the entire commuting.
  • Accessibility and certainty while commuting. The app showing maps and vehicles around you, schedules, availability, traffic as well as the assistance both in cars and infrastructure for handicapped people makes this new transportation system second to nothing in terms of accessibility and certainty to commute.
  • Care mobility. The whole transportation has been designed to provide peace of mind to all users and the options for cargo, wheelchair, and other specialty vehicles create flexibility and convenience.

Describe quienes utilizarían tu propuesta (1,000 caracteres) // Describe who will use your solution (1,000 characters)

An “ALL INCLUSIVE” mindset has been paramount throughout the development of this idea, thus virtually any passenger of the UMUTS would be benefited from its implementation. Form handicapped people either using a wheel chair or not, to those women who want to travel feeling safe and relaxed, to those whose visual capabilities challenge their everyday commuting and finally to any other citizen who needs to commute using a vehicle and wants to get to his/her destination without delay, stress and problems.

Describe la etapa de desarrollo de tu propuesta // Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Diseño inicial: aún estás explorando la idea y no la has probado con los usuarios. // Initial Design - you are still exploring the idea and have not tested it with users

Platícanos acerca de tu equipo o compañía (500 caracteres) // Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

We are an interdisciplinary group of people with professionals including mechanical engineers, marketing people, software engineers, electronic engineers, sales experts, finance people, graphic designers, industrial designers, etc. who gathered together with the sole objective of collaborating to better, safer, easier, cleaner transportation of people, We have full capability to develop this solution and we actually have already interested investors in case we receive the Challenge support.

Tamaño de tu equipo o compañía // Size of your team or organization

  • 11-50

Fondos // Funding Request

  • $100,000

Presupuesto aproximado (500 caracteres) // Rough Budget (500 Characters)

Rough Budget Allocation: 20% Finalize Design and Development 15% Create Beta Version App 10% Build non-saleable prototype and parts 10% Validation 30% Build 5 prototype vehicles 5% Implement pilot free rides 5% Branding and funding. 5% Contingency

Describe cómo usaras los fondos para tu proyecto piloto (1000 caracteres) // Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

The funding from the Mobility Challenge will be used to finalize the design of the transportation system and test it both in labs and in the field, with the construction of at least 5 vehciles for the prototype phase we would have tangible evidence that support the bennefits of the idea, we would then show it to the Mexico City government in order to plan a broader pilot at a key road within the city and we would also start the offer of vehicles for privete owning, which would make the project sustainable and of growing market. Once we have first prototypes we can also raise funds to create an assembly plant to further lower the costs and leverage the bennefits.

Describe cómo medirías el éxito de tu piloto (1000 caracteres) // Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

Five would be the metrics or milestones of the pilot to meassure its success: 1) Finalize on time the 5 fully functional vehicles. 2) Succesfully approve the validation testing program. 3) Being able to make a presentation for potential customer both public and private. 4) Having the Mexico City government and mobility department to test the cars and the whole system and authorizing a broader testing. 5) Selling the first private vehicle.

Plan de sostenibilidad (500 caracteres) // Sustainability Plan (500 Characters)

If the pilot for the idea results in positive feedback we would create a company whose business model would provide incomes from different activities: 1) Advertising in the vehicles and app. 2) Development of specialty vehicles uppon request. 3) Sell of privately owned vehicles. 4) Sell of public tranportation systems to the government 5) Sell of interfcing infrastructure. 6) Maintainance

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