Rushing to your gate and making your flight, it’s easy to forget just how you got there. But, the next time you’re on your way to the airport, take a look around you. You might find that some of the most high-end and cutting-edge technology is taking you right to your destination.
It’s easy to shrug off Automated Transit Systems (known colloquially as “people movers”) as robots that specialize in getting from point A to point B, but there’s plenty of exciting technology happening in that very field. Companies are working hard to not only develop products that work as well in Toronto as they do in Buenos Aires, but also to remain mindful of individual needs within cities and airports.
“One of the advantages of having the broadest portfolio in the rail industry is that it allows us to tailor solutions to whatever customers need,” says Lorenzo Reffreger, Head of Sales Americas at Bombardier Transportation Systems. “We are certainly at the forefront of establishing sustainable mobility.”
Mashable spoke with Reffreger about the emerging trends in people movers, and what we can expect from the unsung transportation technology in the future.
How It Comes Together
Bombardier, the only international transport group to operate in both plane and train systems, works on people mover technology all across the country. From the latest high speed rail in China to airport transport in Denver International Airport, Reffreger says that one of the challenges of creating a smart people mover system is adapting the product to fit the particular needs of each city or airport.
“We’re constantly keeping up to meet the demands of our customers, the demands of the environment, and the demands of the government,” Reffreger explains. “We not only decide the vehicles, but we decide the guideways that they run on, and we try to make as small of a footprint as possible to make sure it has minimal impact.”
Bombardier’s people mover product, the Innovia APM, boasts several important characteristics to conform to different environments. The modular system, which is developed with lightweight and recyclable aluminum, is able to run up to six train cars coupled together in one system and programmable to fit any size and shape route. The benefits of maintaining a driverless vehicle for these routes is simple: Computers do a better job at maintaining efficiency.
“Our automatic train control optimizes energy: The vehicle accelerates at the same rate and breaks at the same rate, and that saves energy as opposed to a human driver,” Reffreger says.
One of Bombardier’s latest installations of its Innovia system opened in April, at Phoenix SkyHarbor Airport. The system, called aptly the “SkyTrain,” joined up the Phoenix Metro’s airport stop to the east with an economy parking lot and Terminal 4. Phoenix riders are able to then take advantage of a car-less ride to the airport, which not only saves on the airport’s traffic and congestion but leads to less emissions overall in the area (something that airports, with their plane fumes, would naturally remained concerned about). The plan is to expand the system through to more terminals, which Reffreger notes is easy to expand given the modular nature of the product.
“You’re constrained by what I call, ‘The limits of your envelope,’” Reffreger explains. “It’s all about the structure buildings and cities have already put in place.”
Steps Toward the Future
So what can we expect in the future from people movers? Reffreger says that Bombardier’s focus, which is in line with the industry as a whole, is on maintaining a product that has minimal impact on the environment and can eventually be dismantled and recycled to make room for an even more advanced system down the line.
“The evolution is going to be focused on sustainability of vehicles and you’ll see more efficient vehicles,” Reffreger adds. “We remain at the forefront of incorporating our structures into the urban environment.”
In addition, the company is working on scalability, providing a comprehensive system for major airports that see millions of people in traffic daily such as LAX. Simply providing a means to handle traffic isn’t just on their radar, though. Reffreger says that Bombardier is constantly planning on ways to “future-proof” their systems by consistently looking ahead at possible technologies to include and ensuring that they’re never using old tricks in a new system.
“We strive to have the latest and greatest. We don’t have a crystal ball, but we want to plan ahead to make sure our vehicles are ready for the future.”
What do you think of people movers? Let us know in the comments.
Images courtesy of Bombardier, Flickr, mkumm