Self-Driving Cars Equipped With Batteries, Serious Competitors For Traditional Trucks And Wagons

Self-Driving Cars Equipped With Batteries, Serious Competitors For Traditional Trucks And Wagons

The Rail Fleet And Freight Trains Have Changed Little In The Last 200 Years, And We Still See A Chain Of Interconnected Wagons, Propelled By Giant Locomotives On Rails, Moving Goods From One Destination To Another. 

Self-Driving Cars Equipped With Batteries, Serious Competitors For Traditional Trucks And Wagons, Fans of the railway industry believe that many things have changed, and they are not wrong! But the performance of freight trains has not changed much since their invention.

However, it looks like significant changes are coming. After leaving the company, three former SpaceX engineers founded a startup called Parallel Systems. They worked away from the news media on developing a new technology that is supposed to revolutionize the rail transportation industry.

Clean energy at the service of railway lines

This startup business has just introduced the first example of its achievement, relying on the advancements in the battery industry and self-driving cars to make extensive changes in the world of freight trains. It believes that its invention can create a massive transformation in this field. So that freight trains move with less noise and use clean energy instead of fossil fuels.

How much their innovation will be welcomed depends on the approach of companies active in goods transportation and attracting investors. The field of activity of Parallel Systems is not limited to replacing new electric engines with old diesel engines of locomotives. Still, this company is trying to use electric motors in each wagon.

Currently, a large part of electric passenger trains use electric propulsion technology, but expanding the use of this technology in the freight train sector is slow.

 It is a problem that Parallel Systems is trying to solve.

The solution provided by Parallel Systems works in such a way that each rail car uses a battery, electric motor, four wheels, and a set of sensors to move autonomously.

Because most of the goods around the world are placed and transported inside 20-foot containers, new rail cars are designed to move these types of containers so that the container fills the distance between the axles of the two vehicles and is called bogies. ) is said (Figure 1).

The main idea of ​​Parallel Systems engineers is that each cargo container will reach its destination by employing two electric cars in a self-driving manner without the need for an operator. Just like how self-driving cars work.

figure 1

How does this vast and heavy system work?

Two-wheeled goods carriers (Vehicles) are placed at a suitable distance from each other. A crane lowers the container, so each side is placed on a device. Next, two cars move towards the destination autonomously using electric motors, short-range and long-range cameras, and a set of sensors. Considering that each vehicle has all the necessary routing and speed control tools, we don’t need to have a chain of connected cars. Of course, the vehicles can move towards the destination in large groups (Figure 2).

“We believe that the size of a fleet based on this technology should ideally be between 10 and 50 vehicles,” says Matt Soule, CEO of the startup. In groups of ten, the aerodynamic load is best distributed among the cars, but commercially, if the deposited cargo is more significant, we will need a maximum of 50 vehicles. According to today’s standards of the rail transportation industry, a train with 50 cars is considered a short train. Trains have always been big and long, but in recent years freight trains have become longer because it makes moving freight more economical.

Interestingly, the length of some trains reaches 4.8 kilometers. “Such a huge device cannot park anywhere.” Sowell and the company under his supervision hope that by shortening the length of the trains, it will be possible to transport goods through the rail network to more areas, especially the areas where the supply of goods is done through cargo trucks.

He says: “We will increase the share of the railway network in the transportation of goods.”

Parallel Systems electric cars can travel 805 kilometers with each charge, and two vehicles can move one or two containers with a total weight of 29,000 kg.

The vision system based on cameras and sensors of cars can recognize other vehicles, obstacles, slopes, and curvature of the road. Sowell believes that with this system for vehicle routing and movement in Parallel Systems, electric cars can travel 805 kilometers with each charge. Two vehicles can move one or two containers with a total weight of 29,000 kg.

The vision system based on cameras and sensors of cars can recognize other vehicles, obstacles, slopes, and curvature of the road. Sowell believes that with this system for vehicle routing and movement in Parallel Systems, electric cars can travel 805 kilometers with each charge. Two vehicles can move one or two containers with a total weight of 29,000 kg.

The vision system based on cameras and sensors of cars can recognize other vehicles, obstacles, slopes, and road curves. Sowell believes this system for vehicle routing and movement in the form of self– itself-driving is suitable in environments with little complexity and can quickly move goods. However, he points out that a human operator can help cars make decisions in specific and sensitive situations.

The first generation of this company’s cars has been successfully tested on the railway track in Southern California, and the second and redesigned generation is scheduled to be tested in the second half of 2022 so that the third generation of these cars is ready to be produced and put on the market.

figure 2

Introducing innovative and new technologies to the rail freight fleet

Does new technology have the capacity to revolutionize the rail transport industry? Like any startup business, Parallel Systems is facing many problems. The company’s success in rail transportation depends on increasing the use of rail in areas dominated by truck fleets. More precisely, the railway tracks do not exist in these areas, have been destroyed, or need extensive repairs.

“The success of this idea depends on the extent of the rail network and usable rail stations,” says Pasi Lavotala, director of the rail transportation program at Michigan Technological University. Most small towns either lack railways or their railways are not in perfect and ideal operating conditions.

Logistical problems are the biggest problem facing Parallel Systems. After the construction of railway lines or their repair, transport companies must build the necessary infrastructure for moving container operation and maintenance of electric vehicles. These problems are not insurmountable, but significant investment is needed to remove the barriers.

Two methods control the traffic of the national railway network: block signaling system (BS) called Block Signaling, and positive train control (PTC) called Positive Train Control. In the block signaling system, the lines are shown in the form of blocks, and the movement of the blocks is controlled by human operators, operators called dispatchers.

In the positive train control system mechanism, global positioning signals (GPS) and similar technologies are used to control the movement of trains.

The signaling system controls the movement of trains in many national railways in different countries, such as the United States. Using the new positive control system can speed up the train movement process and increase the productivity of the railway network.

In many countries, the railway industry has used the positive train control system in a limited way. For example, in 2008, the United States government was required to equip 93,000 km of the country’s 225,000 km of rail network with positive control systems, achieving a goal 12 years later in 2020. However, many US railroads still do not use positive train control.

It is precisely the point that has stopped the entry of new technologies into the field of rail freight fleet. “Using modern automated systems, you can run trains faster and closer together, but you still have to use the outdated block signaling system,” says Lavutala.

In this case, the trains have to move at specific distances from each other, which is always 3 kilometers. This system is suitable for controlling long trains; for this reason, one of the necessary conditions for implementing the Parallel Systems solution is to update the railway network.

The use of obsolete systems in the railway network and the lack of redistribution of cargo containers on long routes make the idea of ​​Parallel Systems company not to be successful in the short term. However, their vision is attractive, and if enough investment is made on it, it is transformative.”

The war over the transfer of goods

Regardless of the idea of ​​the startup Parallel Systems to introduce new technologies, the railway industry needs to solve the current problems to expand and progress. “I believe that if the rail industry and the companies operating in it want to capture a larger share of the transportation market, they should focus on moving goods over shorter routes,” says Lavotala.

This way, the railway industry faces a big competitor: cargo trucks. Interestingly, cargo trucks have been receptive to introducing new and electric technologies earlier than the railway industry.

Self-driving electric trucks can significantly reduce the cost of transporting goods. Fully self-driving trucks alone will cut costs for trucking companies in half, and vehicle owners will incur fewer ancillary costs, especially in periodic equipment inspections and replacement of defective parts. Also, by relying on the technology of electric drives, this industry can reduce the number of carbon emissions.

In general, we must say that using electric and self-driving truck fleets can reduce costs and pollution; now, if such an achievement is introduced to the rail goods transportation industry, prices will be lower, and profitability will be higher.

“The advantage of the rail industry has always been that it’s cheaper to move freight than by truck,” says Sowell. But now truckers are going to cut their costs dramatically. In this case, what future awaits the railway industry? We are here to invent a solution to this problem.”

Why is it essential to use an electric self-driving transportation system?

This year, the United Nations again warned that if governments and big companies are indifferent to climate change, we will see tsunamis and global warming again. Unprecedented hot winds in the North-West of America, widespread fires in California, Oregon, Washington, and their neighboring states, the strengthening of tropical cyclones in the Pacific Ocean, and the devastating floods that hit different parts of Europe and China are just some of the unfortunate weather events in The year was 2021 AD.

If there is still any hope of avoiding extreme climate fluctuations, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly. It means moving towards renewable energy sources and removing carbon from the public fleet transportation system, which accounts for almost a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions in the world. That is why we see the presence of electric cars in different countries. Cars are supposed to minimize the amount of lead that we inhale daily.

“Until a few years ago, some automakers believed that electric vehicles were a fad that would be phased out of the technology world after a while,” says Gail Tal, director of Plugin’s hybrid and electric vehicle research center at the University of California, Berkeley. But it’s clear that electric cars are here to stay, which has extended to the rail freight fleet.”

Globally, sales of electric cars have grown significantly in the first half of 2021, and the reception was so great that it also introduced the above technology to trucks. Automobile companies such as General Motors, Volkswagen, and Nissan have put new electric car models on the agenda for the next decade. General Motors and Honda have announced that they will electrify all their cars by 2040.

Ford has unveiled electric versions of some of its cars.

“Besides the consumer demand for electric cars that have increased sales, what is more, important are the policies and government support for car manufacturers and the automotive industry that has made this industry boom,” says Tal. The strict rules of the European Union in the field of controlling the emission of greenhouse gases by the automobile industry in 2021 caused the automakers that produced before this electric car to increase their production. In 2020, China announced that the sales of electric vehicles in this country will increase by 40% by 2030.

All these efforts are being made to phase out internal combustion engines. Now the startup Parallel Systems is planning to make such a transformation in the freight industry and reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.

However, there is a big problem in this field; Naturally, companies that invest in electric vehicles do not need heavy and expensive infrastructure, while in the rail industry, you need to build lines in areas where the necessary infrastructure does not exist.

On the other hand, trains need heavy and expensive batteries to run smoothly. The cost of making such batteries is not low. Such problems can solve with government support, incentives, and investors willing to invest in such projects.

Several essential criteria should consider replacing fossil fuel equipment with electric models.

Should reduce The final cost of production. Charging stations should be easily accessible, Just like in the old days when the trains refueled at the stations without any problem and the life of the batteries increased.

The rail freight industry depends on the length and amount of cargo being moved by these wheeled vehicles. For example, nearly five years ago, cars needed to be recharged in the automotive industry after traveling about 100 miles. Today, on average, a car battery needs to be restored to travel the approximate distance of 250 miles from New York to Washington.

Typically, the production of batteries for cars and rail fleets requires scarce materials.

More precisely, they are difficult to access and require digging and extracting these materials from the ground. Of course, there are solutions to overcome this problem. For example, recycling batteries to reduce dependence on raw materials is an essential issue.

In the end, it should note that investing in electric vehicles alone will not prevent climate change, and different industry sectors should also reduce the use of fossil fuels.