The UrbanLoop pod was unveiled at the heart of Nancy, Source: City of Nancy on Facebook

World's lowest energy-per-kilometre rail vehicle unveiled in Nancy

World's lowest energy-per-kilometre rail vehicle unveiled in Nancy

The UrbanLoop is a prototype electric public transport system focused on providing low-carbon mobility for individuals as a rival to the car

Last week, authorities in Nancy, France, presented the first testable UrbanLoop prototype to the public. The UrbanLoop is a cutting edge low-carbon urban mobility solution that was developed by the local Université de Lorraine. Moreover, the UrbanLoop prototype was able to set the record for the lowest energy-per-kilometre rail vehicle in the world.

In 2017, students from the University set out to answer the question: ‘What is the optimal mobility solution for a fixed matter/energy quantity?’ According to UrbanLoop sources, the designers found out that individual electric transportation was paradoxically more efficient than mass transit.

At the same time, by offering individual and electric public transport options, the UrbanLoop is able to compete with the car in two main aspects – speed and travel time. The key concepts guiding the design were eliminating waiting times at stops and forcing passengers to use connecting lines.

The UrbanLoop concept

Artificial intelligence is the main driving force behind the UrbanLoop project, as it is embedded in different forms throughout the whole system. One of the main challenges in running the loop is being able to coordinate the individual pods so they do not run into each other.

According to the team, instead of having an algorithm running the whole track, individual pods communicate with each other through a decentralised system. This allows them to be positioned within 3 millimetres of each other with an error probability of less than 10-9.

At the same time, to reduce waiting times at stops, the network will use a predictive algorithm to send pods where they need to be in order to meet demand. The idea here is to increase efficiency so that the pods never run empty, and people do not experience waiting times. Furthermore, the pods do not have their own power source - instead, they use the rails themselves.

Stops, on the other hand, will be on a separate line, so they do not cause congestion, as opposed to trams, metros and conventional rail. Additionally, the pods are supposed to run in a closed environment to shield them from the elements. However, the loop does not need to be filled with a special gas or create a vacuum,  thus preventing the shortcomings of many similar projects.

Real-world implementation

One of the first real-world trials of the urban loop took place in 2021, where the team was able to set the world record for the lowest energy consumption per kilometre for any rail vehicle. Back then the team used the occasion to present their concept to the Minister of Transport, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, and Mathieu Klein, Mayor of Nancy and a vocal supporter of the project.

Last week, the team, supported by local authorities presented the pods to the public in Nancy, where people were allowed to go in and test the design for themselves. However, the future of the UrbanLoop seems even brighter, as, in 2024, there will be a test track at the Paris Olympics, while in 2026, the innovation will debut in the public transit system in Nancy.



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