NEXT FUTURE TRANSPORTATION: THINKING OUTSIDE THE (SELF-DRIVING) BOX
Like many, I have seen countless visions of the future, from car-less roads to skies filled with drones and air taxis.
And, quite frankly, it’s all a bit much. It might be exciting for the public to see worlds reminiscent of Blade Runner, but it just isn’t going to happen. We need to find a balance between futurism and realism.
Unfortunately, this is incredibly difficult as no one actually knows what future mobility will look like. The industry has a rough idea, but there are hundreds of companies all pushing different solutions through new products and software. All of this variety is great for a journalist like myself, which does sound hypercritical, but this must stop immediately to avoid a false sense of hope. Now, I’ve found a company which is aiming to have its self-driving pods on public roads by the end of this year, through a futuristic-yet-achievable design for urban transport.
NEXT Future Transportation is an advanced smart transportation system based on swarms of modular self-driving vehicles, designed in Italy. Each module can join and detach with other modules. When joined, they create an open, bus-like area among modules, allowing passengers to stand and walk from one module to another. The modules can drive autonomously on roads, join and detach from one another when in motion and allow passengers to walk among each cabin.
These features, which can be seen in the video below, illustrate just how different this innovation is to other autonomous projects, providing logistic, consumer and business solutions into urban ecosystems.
To find out more, I spoke to Tommaso Gecchelin, the Founder, Inventor and Chief Technology Officer at Next Future Transport. Gecchelin first thought up the idea when he was studying physics at the University of Padua, in Italy. During his time in education, he dealt with logistic optimisation algorithms.
“You always have the same number of passengers within each car, from the origin to the destination point, even when most of the people congesting the roads, especially during commuting time, are going to the same destinations,” he says. “The problem is, they are coming from sparse origin points and so they do not take public transport or use carpooling, because it takes too much time.”
This created an idea that even Gecchelin himself says was crazy at the time: “jumping into the car next to mine, while on the road, if we are going to the same destination.” In existing vehicles, this is insane. But not if someone was to re-imagine what a vehicle should look and operate like. His goal was simple: to increase passenger density to decrease congestion, costs and consumption, while maintaining the same ubiquity of a taxi service.
“When I finished my graduation in Physics and started my Bachelor in Industrial Design, I started trying to figure out how to make this ‘car jumping’ a feasible thing,” he adds. So, Gecchelin thought up the idea of creating autonomous ‘boxes’ with doors at the front and back to create a corridor between units when connected. This would allow passengers to move freely between each cabin as they joined together at different points in transit. Gecchelin’s “crazy” idea had quickly become a lot more achievable.