This future-oriented project is to co-ordinate the development of a standard for a Smart Automated Container (SAC), designed for the emerging public transport system called Personal Automated Transport (PAT). PAT provides 24/7, on-demand, direct origin-to-destination service. Passengers travel in small, 3-6 seat, light-weight, electrically powered and fully automated vehicles running on an exclusive network of light and narrow rails which may be implemented either elevated, at grade or underground.
PAT networks have also excellent properties for urban freight delivery and there is an urgent need to explore such potentials. In-time PAT could be the infrastructure cities need to handle both, passenger and freight transport in an efficient and sustainable fashion. Freight transport services during off- peak hours would make the operation of PAT networks more profitable for the operator as well. This in turn would contribute to a faster diffusion of PAT as urban transport solution.
In presence of the various, independent PAT developments around the world, the introduction of a PAT compatible SAC container standard is now needed to enforce the convergence on a common vehicle-container interface. The global vision would be that such small containers could be transported efficiently between PAT island-networks or any other emerging automated transport technology, while ensuring a maximum compatibility with conventional transport.
SAC containers will be Smart in that they will have built-in sensors, tracking and communication features that will facilitate the efficient and secure movement over a multi-modal transport infrastructure.
The container will be Automated by having support and attachment features that will enable efficient, safe and secure automated handling and transfers between different transport modes.
The long-term goal is a European standard that would then become a globally ubiquitous standard unit that would be the preferred means of freight transport in the urban environment.
The goals of this project are in agreement with the topics of theme SST.2008.3.1.4:
“Technologies and systems for freight movements and goods services in cities which minimise their impact upon residents whilst maintaining or increasing overall system efficiency.” The particular topics are addressed in the following way:
- Loading/unloading systems and urban infrastructure with reduced noise and pollution:
A high degree of automation in loading and unloading is a core feature of SACs. The envisaged concept is predominantly based on small PAT vehicles, which run exclusively with silent, zero emission and energy efficient electric motors.
- New concepts of urban friendly transport systems for a better integration of functions for freight distribution and collection:
The envisaged SAC concept will allow the transport of freight in smaller, individual units that are automatically transported to and collected from smaller depots that are closer to the end-user. This is only economically feasible due to the high level of automation introduced by the PAT system.
- Optimised fleet management and routing of freight vehicles including relations with extra-urban transport and access schemes for more sustainable concepts:
With the envisaged SAC container concept it possible to open shipping containers or large lorries in logistic-centres at peripheral locations, package SACs for final city-centre destination at pallet level which will be delivered during off-peak via PAT networks.
- Advanced home delivery concepts:
As mentioned above, the city-centre depots are located “close” to the destination. It will be investigated whether it is feasible to arrange for individual automatic post-boxes in walking distance, where people can pick-up the delivery.
The main activity in the project will be a wide-ranging consultation with stakeholders in both the freight and passenger transport communities, to determine the basic design requirements for a SAC that would improve the efficiency of freight transport and to lead to substantial environmental advantages.
Following this we will co-ordinate follow-up actions to take the idea forward.
The addressed needs
There are big problems with transport within and between urban areas, notably with the domination of the car for the movement of people and large lorries for the movement of freight. These problems include the amount of energy used, pollution, noise, vibration, danger and use of space, all of which degrade the urban environment.
A factor in these problems is the cost and inconvenience of moving freight from one mode of transport to another. Very little automation is available for loading and transporting smaller items of freight, which means that the same vehicle is used for the whole journey to avoid the cost of manual handling and driving. The result is that large lorries are used to deliver small items in restricted space in city centres.
An important problem with road transport is its dependence on carbon-based fuels with resulting emission of greenhouse gas. There is an urgent need to develop transport that uses electrical energy coming from sustainable sources as well as reducing energy use overall.
There are emerging ideas for solving the general problem of urban transport, in particular Personal Automated Transport (PAT), modal inter-operability and small freight containers. However, the development of these ideas has tended to be parochial. There is an opportunity for bringing these ideas together to find transport solutions where the sum is greater than the parts.