Autonomous swarming electric pods: halfway between train and car?

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There are cars and trucks, and then there are trains and buses.

While multi-seat vans and wagons can serve the purpose of buses carrying multiple unrelated people, a California company has come up with an entirely new concept.

The Dubai Roads and Transport Authority announced yesterday it  would test what maker Next Future Corporation calls the world's first autonomous electric transport pods.

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Running in dedicated lanes, the NX1 pods are intended for short- and medium-distance trips.

Pods can couple themselves together within 15 seconds to form a sort of train, with one or more then uncoupling to head for different destinations in as little as 5 seconds.

Cameras and electromechanical linking devices control the coupling and uncoupling, and safety systems using the cameras and other sensors are said to guard against crashes.

Dubai Roads and Transit Authority to test Next Future Transportation NX1 autonomous electric pods

Dubai Roads and Transit Authority to test Next Future Transportation NX1 autonomous electric pods

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Each of the Italian-built pods—which measure 9.4 feet long and high by 7.3 feet wide—can carry up to 10 people and weighs 3,300 pounds.

They are electrically powered at an average speed of 20 km/h (12.5 mph), faster than walking speed although slower than cars in unobstructed traffic.

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The battery, of unspecified capacity, is said to provide about 3 hours of operation and require a 6-hour recharging time, presumably without benefit of DC fast charging.

The transit authority's test of the pods is one of numerous efforts toward a goal of making one out of every four trips in Dubai autonomous by 2030.

Bugatti showroom in Dubai

Bugatti showroom in Dubai

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The RTA has signed an agreement with Next Future to test and develop the technology, with the goal of offering new and innovative mobility services.

Perhaps more important in the shorter term, use of the pods in dedicated lanes is seen as a way to reduce single-occupant vehicle traffic and congestion within the kingdom.

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It has also conducted tests of drone taxis with a Chinese company.

Pods with the RTA logo were displayed almost 18 months ago at a technology show, with local ride-hailing service Careem announcing plans to deploy them.

 
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