Tuesday, July 31, 2018
I say “Gee Whiz” because a lot of the presentations and discussions at NASTO 2018 were all about rapidly evolving transportation technology and what state agencies can do to respond to it. (NASTO is the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials, which held its annual meeting recently at National Harbor, Maryland.)
Some of the Gee Whiz stuff (of varying degrees of practicality/likelihood):
· Baltimore – Washington maglev trains – Using Japanese technology. 15 minutes DC to Baltimore! (website here)
· JPods – Personal rapid transit system at $10 million per mile. (website here)
· Electric vehicles – Hydro Quebec (blessed with hydroelectric power) investing hugely in Fast Chargers, which they view as “the crux of the matter” and “the determining factor” in spurring the uptake of EVs.
· Automated vehicles – Lots of angst following the Tempe pedestrian death in March, but still advancing rapidly.
· Personal delivery vehicles – Expect sidewalk robots as well as drones!
This is not even to mention Hyperloop (!) (not on the program but the subject of a lot of talk), which Maryland seems to be actively pursuing in partnership with Elon Musk (story here).
State DOTs are struggling, with varying degrees of success, to cope with the onslaught of new tech. My favorite quote of the conference (from Washington State legislation! – here):
“This effort [a study of AVs] is required because robot cars are coming, but robot policy makers are not.”
Special notice goes to OLLI, the automated shuttle, which NASTO goers got to experience on a test ride. We also got to see some of the design lab work at the builder, Local Motors, a cutting edge company called Local Motors (see their website here) which specializes in 3D printing and robotics technology. OLLI is a very promising candidate for “first mile, last mile” shuttle applications and the company plans to be in revenue service at some pilot locations within months. The engineers feel confident that they can overcome fears about automated travel by loading up OLLI with a comprehensive, sophisticated (and expensive) suite of sensors that would not be affordable on personal vehicles. Hope to see them on the road soon!