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    Solar Powered Automated Transportation Network for San José

    July 29th, 2020


    By Burford Furman
    San José State University

    25th JULY 2020
    A team of engineers, architects, and urban planners from San José State University, Southern Illinois, and the International Institute of Sustainable Transportation, with support from the Mineta Transportation Institute, is examining the benefits and challenges associated with creating a solar powered automated transit network (ATN) that will link areas near the north and south campuses of SJSU.

    The overall project is composed of two sub-studies. The first study (Energy Systems) is focused on answering the question, “Can solar photovoltaic panels located along the guideway network deliver the energy needed by a large transportation network?” The second study (Visualization) is focused on answering the question, “Will immersive, dynamic computer visualization help decision makers buy into radically new transportation approaches?”
    Solar photovoltaic panels (PV) applied directly to the guideway of an ATN system have been promoted by various individuals and developers since the 1990s (Furman, 2018). However, for solar ATN to gain serious consideration by decision makers, there must be evidence that it can actually provide the energy needed to operate the system and stations reliably and resiliently. Thus, the Energy Systems project proposes to define the solar-energy collection, energy storage, storage-to-vehicle and propulsion, grid interconnection, and distribution system requirements for an ATN system and passenger catchment area near the SJSU north and south campuses.
    Besides the ‘nuts-and-bolts’ engineering development and verification that must be done for solar-powered ATN to become a reality, significant knowledge is needed by planners, architects, and developers to be able to weave ATN systems into the urban fabric in ways that will be acceptable to community stakeholders. The gathering of feedback from stakeholders has improved in the past few decades with the rise of the internet and social media and their ability to provide information and solicit comment from the public, however the visualization and virtual ‘experiencing’ of proposed major changes to the urban fabric from large transportation projects is stuck in the dark ages and tends to stifle innovation. It is hard to overstate the value of immersive, dynamic modeling of a cityscape in comparison to static, two-dimensional depictions of what things will be like as a result of proposed changes to transportation systems, however the development of immersive, dynamics models, such as those from companies like Encitra/4Dialog is a relatively complex, time intensive process.

    Thus, the Visualization project seeks to streamline the process for creating and mainstreaming dynamic ATN models to make them more accessible for those without extensive training or background in software to develop models and to use them effectively in the decision making process for proposed new transportation systems.
    More information on the research project is available at :
    Furman, B., Swenson, R. McDonald, S., Ramasubramanian, L., Fogelquist, J., Chiao, Y., Pape, A. (2020). Solar Powered Automated Transportation Network for San José. Mineta Transportation Institute, Project 1948.
    Furman, B. J., (November 19, 2018). “Solar-Powered Automated Transit – Its Time is NOW! ATRA Pulse.