Superbus: on-demand luxury public transport at over 150 mph
By Darren Quick
March 30, 2010
Looking more like a futuristic stretch limo than a bus, the Superbus is a 15-meter long vehicle that provides seating for 23 passengers who can embark and disembark via its 16 gull-wing doors (eight on each side). The electric bus runs on four E2M electric motors powered by rechargeable batteries with its highly streamlined shape and lightweight construction designed to keep energy consumption down as it hurtles along at 155 mph.
Instead of adhering to a fixed schedule the Superbus is designed to be flexible and provide high volume, point to point transport on demand via a central routing optimization system.
Designed by a team at the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands the Superbus is able to alter its ground clearance to suit the road via front and rear lifting aluminum sub-frames. For city driving on existing roads the vehicle has a ground clearance of 40cm to allow it to be driven over speed bumps. Then when the bus hits a dedicated “Supertrack” it can be lowered to a ground clearance of 7cm and can reach speeds of 250 kmh (155 mph). These Supertracks would be built close to existing highways and would allow the bus to drive on autopilot. To prevent icing during winter the surface of these roads would store heat in the summer and release it in the winter.
To keep weight down the chassis, including the cockpit and the rear are completely made of carbon fiber-epoxy composite, while the outer panels of the Superbus are made of IXIS, a composite material consisting of a foam core sandwiched between layers of thermoplastic fiberglass. This material boasts high energy absorption in the case of a collision and is also recyclable. Strong and lightweight Lexan polycarbonate was chosen for the glazing. To ensure low rolling resistance for minimum energy consumption special tires needed to be developed by Vredestein with the dimensions of a truck tire, but with the specifications of a sport-scar tire.
For improved safety the vehicle includes a fast responding electronic guidance system and obstacle detection systems using radar to detect objects from a few hundred meters away. To improve maneuverability the rear wheels of the bus also steer. The bus boasts 750 onboard sensors to detect such things as whether all passengers have fastened their seat-belts and if there is anyone standing in range of the doors while they are opening and closing.
The interior of the vehicle is designed to provide comfortable, luxurious and private travel space for the passengers. It is split into two main parts: the passenger compartment and the cockpit. The passenger compartment is then divided into three cabins using two transparent dividing screens. The first cabin offers a single row of forward facing seats with each passenger provided with a personal table, headset and a multimedia screen. The two cabins behind have two rows of seats that face each other with a large foldable conference table in the middle, which also holds multimedia screens.
On Demand Public Transport
Recognizing that flexibility is one of the major strengths of the car the Superbus will pick up passengers near their homes when needed. In order to make the goal of a point to point on demand system a reality the project will look to develop a special ordering system. This ordering system will receive pickup requests from the Internet and SMS and will combine passengers with the same origin and destination as much as possible to minimize the distance traveled and the number of stops needed during the trip. Its developers say fares for the Superbus service would be comparable with present day public transport prices.
To evaluate the Superbus concept the project team built a test mule to do a series of test runs before starting assembly of the demonstrator vehicle. The first test drive of the Superbus mule took place at the RDW test center in Lelystad on October 19, 2008, with three subsequent test-drives culminating in a fourth and final test drive on January 31, 2009.
Satisfied with the results of the Superbus mule test-drives the project has turned to the construction of a full prototype. The chassis has been completed and the glazing and body panels have been attached, giving the Superbus its distinctive shape. Work then moved to the interior with the upholstery finished on January 21, 2010. After the completion and evaluation of the prototype the project will move to the final phase which will see the Superbus enter large scale production with TU Delft hoping to market the vehicle worldwide.
The Superbus team boasts some impressive names. It was designed by Dr Antonia Terzi, the former chief aerodynamicist of the BMW-Williams Formula 1 team, while Prof. Wubbo Ockels, the first Dutchman in space, is the project’s General Manager. The project has also garnered sponsorship from a number of sources including the Netherlands government, which has pledged 77 million euro to the project in addition to industry sponsors. Over 45 suppliers, including Bose, Logitech, Hella, E2M technologies and Bosch have also gotten behind the project.
It’s still a few years before we’re likely to see the Superbus taking passengers, but here’s hoping it will one day mean an end to the aging, pollution spewing, less than punctual and even less comfortable mobile boxes I’m forced to endure at the moment.
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