Urban Transport

Next Future modular transportation swarms the commuting hordes

Next Future modular transporta...
A rendering of the Next Future Transportation system in action
A rendering of the Next Future Transportation system in action
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The boxy pods don't look particularly efficient on their own, but they link up to shuttle passengers in a large bus
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The boxy pods don't look particularly efficient on their own, but they link up to shuttle passengers in a large bus
When it's your time to exit, the app prompts you to your exit pod
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When it's your time to exit, the app prompts you to your exit pod
The doors automatically open when two pods link up, allowing passengers to move between them
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The doors automatically open when two pods link up, allowing passengers to move between them
Each pod holds up to 10 people
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Each pod holds up to 10 people
Next Future envisions the modules operating with regular car and truck traffic
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Next Future envisions the modules operating with regular car and truck traffic
Single modules link together en route to their individual destinations
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Single modules link together en route to their individual destinations
The combined modules create a tourist space in this rendering
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The combined modules create a tourist space in this rendering
The modules connect at the ends or in the middle of a greater group while in motion
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The modules connect at the ends or in the middle of a greater group while in motion
A rendering of the Next Future Transportation system in action
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A rendering of the Next Future Transportation system in action
View gallery - 9 images

Part mass transit, part personal mobility, the Next Future Transportation system is designed to act as an efficient, coordinated network that shuttles folks from door to door. Still in the early concept stages, the design features a series of modular, self-driving electric pods that pick passengers up on demand and link together in bus-like form on the journey to get each of them from point A to B as efficiently as possible.

Italian industrial designer and Next Future Transportation Inc. founder Tommaso Gecchelin imagines our transportation future combining the best attributes of current transportation methods while trimming some fat. He envisions a set of self-driving modules that operate on existing roadways. Unlike current public transportation systems, there are no defined routes, and users order up transportation at the touch of a mobile app. Each module measures 8.8 feet (2.7 m) in length and holds up to 10 people (six seats plus standing room for four).

The doors automatically open when two pods link up, allowing passengers to move between them
The doors automatically open when two pods link up, allowing passengers to move between them

Because the Next Future system relies on existing roadways, it avoids the need for any added physical infrastructure, such as rails. Instead, its infrastructure is purely virtual, consisting of an advanced, cloud-based routing system that not only drives the autonomous pods to and fro but also coordinates all pods in the system, both private and public, linking swarms together wherever possible to cut traffic, optimize occupancy and ensure the most energy-efficient performance.The modules attach and detach while in motion, and the automatic doors connect the interiors so that passengers can move freely between pods, much like they'd move from car to car on a train. Not only is this interior mobility useful for getting up and stretching or accessing amenities on other modules, but it's a necessary part of the ride – when it's time for you to split off from the greater train toward your destination, you exit to a separate module and go your separate way.

When it's your time to exit, the app prompts you to your exit pod
When it's your time to exit, the app prompts you to your exit pod

Unlike a bus or train, which runs the same route no matter how few people are on it, the Next system sends individual modules where they're needed and links them in high-traffic areas. Gecchelin even imagines passengers ordering up service pods, such as bathrooms, restaurants or shops, which would automatically locate and join the existing vehicle, allowing said passenger to access needed services without stopping.In a hypothetical travel scenario, you order a Next module with your smartphone app. It picks you up at home and rolls through your neighborhood to the main thoroughfare, where it links up with a multi-module train. If you're going a long distance, you sit back and enjoy the ride, maybe order up a restaurant or bar module. If you have a relatively short journey, an empty pod joins up with the train and the app prompts you to move to this pod, which splits off and drops you at your destination.

Does all that sound a little out there? As we said from the get-go, it is still just an early concept. The design appears to be more than just one designer's wild flight of fancy, though; Gecchelin has incorporated Next Future in Silicon Valley and taken on a CEO and advisory board. The first Next design came out in 2012, and this year the company revealed version 3.0. It plans to work on prototypes with hopes of launching a viable system by 2020.

We won't be holding our breath waiting for Next systems to start revolutionizing cities within the decade, but the design does spark an interesting conversation about future mobility systems. It's a little hard to imagine boxy pods zipping and swarming in all directions around the city grid while fighting through existing car traffic, but we do like how the design combines elements of personalized, point-to-point transportation, car sharing, and efficient, gridlock-reducing mobility. That's all on paper, of course, but it's an interesting alternative compared to more established paradigms: self-driving personal automobiles, existing public transportation options, "last mile" personal mobility devices, etc.

Since this concept is still so young, we won't get into all the claimed advantages and statistics, but you can learn more about those projected benefits on Next's website. It has a few infographics showing how the system could benefit various user groups.

The video below provides a quick look at the Next v3.0 in action, offering a nice visualization of how the system would work from the user's perspective. Take a look and let us know what you think: intriguing vision for future mobility or problem-riddled non-starter?

Source: Next Future

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8 comments
SilentHightimes
The future is not square its circle, if you want efficient and strong.
Bob Stuart
I hope this system will integrate with small pods for less travelled routes. I never want to weigh less than my ride, or push more air than necessary, but I do like the portable home office aspect of a car. I think those wheels flatter our streets, too.
Mexoplex 5 Million
i always saw something like this for truck shipments between major warehouses... UPS, USPS, etc etc
Bob Flint
Skip the snack bar, you will need toilets...
Good luck with the splitting and transfers most people oblivious and don't feel like moving around to adjust to the re-organizing of the modules on the fly. No other traffic around you also not realistic, constant barrage of mixed traffic will cause these cubes to be jammed, & rammed resulting in hurt or killed passengers, while they sip their juice in a standing position. Yeah you could say the same thing for people packed standing on a bus, but the bus usually gets it's way because of it's size...
ezeflyer
They should have some room for cargo if you want to bring a bike or scooter for when you arrive.
IvanWashington
what about those of us who cannot get smartphones or expensive smartphone service, how will we connect with this futuristic public transit system?
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Need much smoother/leveler streets or good load leveling.
Daishi
This is similar to a mass transit system I described here a while back. The idea I had in mind is that the pods would link but you couldn't walk between them and as long as they were compatible with the protocol/spec they wouldn't need to be the same.
I think you have to make a LOT of compromises in the design to allow you to walk from pod to pod. You get in and out from the side and they link front to back like train cars so now you have 3 walls per pod that have to be a door. This limits what you can put in pods, safety etc.
Linking improves aerodynamics (like drafting) but perhaps more importantly it improves density. You are supposed to leave at least one car length per 10 MPH when driving to prevent rear end collisions. At highway speeds of 60-70 MPH that is 6 or 7 car lengths between each car that is wasted space to overhead.
2 cars at 70 MPH need 9 total spaces so at speed nearly 80% of the lane is wasted. This means 9 linked cars with no buffer between them could use one lane vs traditional cars needing about 5 lanes to achieve the same throughput result.
Essentially the system is designed after Internet packets and network routing. You can measure delay on certain paths and route around them and Google is pretty much already doing these types of calculations in maps.
They key is there are huge efficiency gains when you remove the need for the vehicles to avoid touching so the pods need to be something slightly closer to a bumper car than the design we see here with people casually strolling about a flat platform. That's only allowed some of the time on airplanes, I wouldn't suggest it for any automobile on public roads.
You get out of the pod at or near work, bicycle/segway/hoverboard the rest of the way in if the weather is nice and send the car/pod back to give more people rides or find parking somewhere away from the office.
I think "city builder" video games are a good platform to model/show transportation concepts like the one here and the one I described. The best way to pack cars in tighter is to just link them otherwise we are going to be needing a lot of 50 lane highways.