The California Infrastructure Institute (CALII) is a non-profit corporation formed in the public interest to be a catalyst for collaboration between governments, businesses and academia. Our purpose is to begin a process that will lead to automated transportation networks (ATNs) that are tested, proven and sufficiently standardized such that local authorities can purchase a system with an acceptable level of risk using normal procurement processes.
Despite small-scale ATN operations in Heathrow, Masdar City and Suncheon Bay, other cities that have expressed interest in such systems find themselves ‘stuck’ due to the inherent risk and uncertainty regarding what is perceived to be an unproven technology. Cities and other local authorities are understandably hesitant to adopt innovation that may or may not be both operable and acceptable to the public. While there are enthusiasts who are ready to move forward, often having decided upon a specific vendor’s system, the politicians and planners are both more skeptical and more deliberate.
Which system is best, or least likely to become a ‘technological orphan’? Which company has the financial resources such that the buyer can be assured that they will be around when new parts are needed, technological advances must be incorporated, or simply to deal with problems as they arise? Have any of the vendors really proven their system can operate as a complex network as advertised? Will an elevated track be acceptable to the public? The skeptics see technical, economic, social, environmental, regulatory and political risks — the sum of which means it is easier to say “no” than to actually move forward.
The Aerospace Corporation, a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC), is a technically competent and technology neutral organization that studied ATNs for the City of San Jose. They recognized that the existing small systems have demonstrated their viability, and could serve Mineta Airport. The vendors had not, however, shown that their claims of being fully scalable and able to expand to serve a larger city had been demonstrated.
There is a need for demonstration, not on the streets of a city but on a Proving Ground for independent third party assessment and certification of ATN systems. Such a proving ground is where technical glitches can be worked out, standards for fit, form and function established, human factors tested, movement through stations of various sizes modeled, physical and cyber-security advanced, and where public acceptance can be demonstrated.
A proving ground is where computer models can be extended and pushed to their limits, subsystems can be tested and, where necessary, modifications can be made before use in the public domain. Such a facility would provide training for designers, network planners, operators and maintenance staffs. It would also provide a place for regulators to learn how to regulate such new systems and certify their safety for public use. (An ATN is not a train.) Operations on a proving ground would provide data to extend economic and environmental models, again reducing risk and uncertainty for local authorities and transit operators.
We believe a proving ground, similar to the ones the FRA has for railroads in Colorado and MIRA operates in England for automobiles, would help vendors prove the worth of their proposals – and such independent testing would just as surely expose their weaknesses. The proving ground would make it easier for vendors to bridge both the technological and commercial ‘valleys of death’ where they now appear to be stuck. With the development of technical and quality standards, multiple vendors will be able to compete, thus reducing single-source risk.
Local authorities that participate in this process will be able to set objectives for systems in their jurisdictions and can learn how ATNs might solve the actual transportation problems they face. By linking vendors and potential buyers in a collaborative relationship, technologies will not be developed in a vacuum but can be directly related to promising pilot projects in urban areas. The local agencies will learn how to effectively procure complex technical systems, thus reducing risk before large decisions and expenditures must be made.
CALII is a group of interested private citizens with diverse and relevant professional qualifications. As a non-profit formed in the public interest, we are non-partisan, entirely independent, pro-bono and technology agnostic. We expect to be a reliable repository of objective information and an enduring voice of reason in order to educate the public and public officials regarding new infrastructure technologies.
We intend to promote, engage in and sponsor research in both the pure and applied sciences for the advancement and betterment of urban transportation and related civil infrastructure to serve a public benefit.
We provide a medium through which public and private entities – cities, counties, metropolitan agencies, ports and airports, businesses and all other persons interested in the development and deployment of advanced transportation and associated civil infrastructure can sponsor research and development for the public benefit.
Author: Catherine G. Burke