Future of vehicle transportation could be 'RUF'
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CNN) -- It's called "RUF." Rapid, Urban, Flexible. At first glance, it looks like a transport system "The Jetsons" could love. It's an electric car when you need to run short, individual errands. And it becomes part of a highly efficient, non-polluting "train" as it enters an elevated, automated guideway.
For more than a dozen years, inventor Palle Jensen has been almost evangelical in his belief in this dual mode transportation system. Around the world, he's witnessed "the train people" and "the car people" butting heads as congestion and pollution problems only got worse.
Jensen says RUF combines the best of both: the flexibility of a car and the efficiency of a train.
"You can avoid congestion because it is a very efficient way to move vehicles, to get all the vehicles on a guideway, and couple (them) together to form a train," he says.
"So you have very high capacity in this system. And you can reduce the C02 (carbon dioxide) emissions from individual transport, which is a very important goal."
Make it go
Here's how it works: From home, individuals will get into their electric vehicles, which have had their batteries recharged overnight. They'll drive a short distance to a RUF rail station, where they'll tell the computer their destination. The guideway will then take over control of the vehicles, hooking them up with other RUFs. The elevated guideways would most efficiently be built in the center of existing highways.
The vehicles can reach a top speed of 62 miles (100 km) per hour, slowing down as vehicles reach their pre-programmed destinations. The average speed will be about 50 miles (80 km) per hour.
After exiting the guideway, drivers will take over control and proceed to their offices. (After shutting down their steering wheel-mounted laptops, of course.)
As both inventor and full-time promoter of the RUF vehicle, Jensen created animation on how the individual vehicles and a 10-passenger bus (the Maxi-RUF) would function.
The Internet is playing a major role in "tweaking" RUF's possibilities. Jensen says he gets reactions and suggestions from around the world from other engineers frustrated by the lack of progress on clean, dependable alternatives to the "one person, one car" that's become the norm in many cities.
Sponsors of the RUF research include engineering and automotive companies, the Danish ministries of energy, environment, education and culture, as well as electric and battery companies from Europe and the United States.
Prototype zips along
A prototype of the RUF electric car is in constant development at the Engineering College of Copenhagen.
It travels just a few hundred yards from an indoor engineering shop to a 72 foot (24 meter) test track at the campus. The front of this pilot vehicle is clear, mostly for making it easier to show off to the visiting press and possible sponsors and investors.
Jensen says a RUF network could improve the productivity of commuters who use it, which is why he's courting major corporate sponsors. Since the individual electric vehicles would not be designed for long road trips, they would not need all the bells and whistles of a normal passenger internal combustion vehicle -- and thus be cheaper.
On the completely automated guideway, drivers could go online, review papers, make phone calls and literally get a jump-start on their workday. They could even enjoy the ride, catch a nap or read a book.
"You can use your time on the guideway for work or surfing or buying goods. When you return from work you can drive into the supermarket, you have already ordered the goods, you just pick it up, and bring it home, so the Internet will be integrated into the system," says Jensen.
As costly and inefficient as roads and trains might be, politicians and urban planners who have been handing out billions of dollars to keep them running are still wary of committing any large sums to a system that's never been used before.
Jensen would love to see the first RUF in Copenhagen. And he's getting support from city leaders.
The city's traffic mayor, Soeren Pind, is enthusiastic about Jensen's "out of the box" thinking.
"The reason for my pleasure is a complete and total revolt against conventional thinking represented by RUF," Pind told a town hall meeting. "It breaks down all conventional ideas, all dogmas and sacred cows."
With buses, trains and bike lanes, Copenhagen's congestion and pollution problems don't compare to places like Tokyo or Mexico City. RUF supporters have made the global rounds to transportation conferences from Seattle to Yokohama, Berlin to San Diego.
So will RUF remain an animated dream? Or will a city fighting C02 emissions and wretched rush hours boldly commit billions of dollars for a workable system?
Some transportation experts think it's about time to be bold.
"I am very impressed with the way the concept has been thought through, presented and developed so far," says Jerry Schneider, professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. "It makes me very sad to see large sums of money being spent on ... dumb things instead of technologies such as RUF that hold some potential for dealing with the truly horrendous congestion, carnage and pollution that we are experiencing in all of our large and medium cities," he added.
Jensen, a passionate inventor, says RUF is a project ready to prove its worth.
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