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If Urban.MASS gets its way, we’ll soon be travelling in autonomous electric pods that are based on rails built above our cities. The UK start-up’s proprietary flagship technology is a off-road mass transit system, called floc Duo Rail.
Urban.MASS is part of Six Miles Across London Ltd. – a group of infrastructure-as-service, zero-emission-mobility businesses removing constraints to advanced mobility by air, land and water.
The company was established in 2014 in response to the founder’s misery of a six-mile commute across London.
Auto Futures has been talking to Urban.MASS’ CEO, Kevin O’Grady.
“Urban.MASS limited develops, licenses and sells advanced technology that addresses transport needs in the urban environment. In co-operation with world leading engineering groups, it also builds ’green’, net-zero, affordable, turn-key transit projects, offering high frequency services to passengers,” says O’Grady.
Urban.MASS is very different to most mobility start-ups. Its directors are former executives of leading international architecture, engineering, and technology companies. Its Board of Advisors include transport specialists from around the world, property developers, government advisors, city planners and communication experts.
O’Grady explains how the floc technology works.
“Hundreds of autonomous, zero emission electric pods will pick up individuals from any location on demand, using existing road and rail infrastructure to travel to the nearest Urban.MASS station, elevating to the above-ground track and traverse the most congested areas of urban cities at high speeds, without passengers having to leave the pod. The pods can ‘flock’ together into long trains in order to maximise efficiency, and pick up additional passengers en route as required, based on their desired location.”
“The elevated Duo Rail™ track, powered by overhead solar canopies, can run above existing roads and infrastructure, giving a physical footprint 70% smaller than a typical urban light rail system. This allows infrastructure to ‘tiptoe’ through dense urban areas, minimising the need to demolish buildings or dig expensive tunnel networks, while allowing space for roads, green corridors, cycle paths or pedestrian zones below,” adds O’Grady.
The Only Way Is Up
O’Grady tells us that the floc® technology costs over 50% less than traditional systems, and is suited to both developed and developing countries.
“It is completely compatible with existing infrastructure, able to exist alongside dense urban areas without the need to build expensive tunnel networks or demolish buildings, as pods are able to travel horizontally and vertically,” he says.
“The innovative modular ‘pop up’ construction means each portion of the track can be installed in a matter of days and new sections can be added and adapted easily and quickly to meet growing or shrinking demand. Climate change has prompted us to consider transit solutions that are resilient to flooding and disruptions in power networks, the elevated floc system with its renewable energy is perfect to help especially in developing countries,” adds O’Grady.
The first fully operational site is planned to open in 2025 at the National Railway Museum, Locomotion, in Shildon, North East England – exactly 200 years after the same site hosted the world’s first passenger steam engine, Stephenson’s Locomotion.
“The town is perfectly placed to demonstrate the flexibility of the technology by showing how floc® technology can navigate a number of obstacles, including a road bridge, existing railway line and public walkway. The site will open exactly 200 years after the world’s first passenger locomotive, Stephenson’s Locomotion, made its first ever journey proving that the UK is still at the forefront of mobility innovation and new green net-zero transportation,” explains O’Grady.
Urban.MASS has also received support from the Ugandan government to deploy the first city-scale project in the world, capable of carrying up to 30,000 passengers on the proposed route.
“On 23rd April 2021 a letter was issued promoting a resilient Urban.MASS transit solution for Uganda, since then we have been in continued discussion about the feasibility of the green mobility technology,” he explains.
George Piwang-Jalobo, Urban Mass Contact at UNCCI Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, states: “In line with Uganda 2040 vision, Kampala will be one of the most attractive cities in the world, offering its citizens and visitors a safe and efficient transport system based on a high quality public transport system and a complementary non-motorised transport network. The strategy will be driven by mass public transport to facilitate efficiency and reduce congestion and pollution. Urban Mass, with its green efficient product, is aligned to this vision.”
The company is also in discussion with other major cities.
“The demand for sustainable, accessible and affordable mass transit solutions is on the rise. To meet this growing demand, Urban.MASS has plans to develop mass transit networks of varying sizes in at least 10 cities globally by 2030. Cities around the world have already expressed interest including Bristol, Liverpool and Southampton in the UK,” says O’Grady.
“Urban mobility must be environmentally responsive, affordable and be able to adapt to a changing environment.”
In order to maximise the use of the infrastructure to reduce emissions, the floc system can also for parcel deliveries between logistics centres, ports and airports during off-peak times via special purpose-built Pods design just for cargo deliveries.
“The deployment of the network will significantly cut congestion, carbon emissions and air pollution, allowing people to live in cleaner and greener urban spaces. Urban.MASS floc® will make mass transit far more affordable and accessible to out-of-town locations and smaller cities, reducing the reliance on private cars, vans and HGVs. The technology‘s innovative modular design, means it can easily and quickly meet changes in demand,” explains O’Grady.
“Owing to its small footprint, minimal infrastructure, and driverless vehicles, the operational cost are greatly reduced, coupled with the renewable energy from the solar canopies the system will provide zero emission in its energy generation,” he adds.
Finally, we asked O’Grady what urban travel will look like in the future, and how Urban.MASS will fit in.
“With 68% of the world’s population expected to live in urban areas by 2050, we must find solutions to cater to the ever-growing demand. Urban mobility must be environmentally responsive, affordable and be able to adapt to a changing environment.”
“Urban.MASS floc® encompasses it all – leaving a 50% smaller physical footprint than conventional rail and is compatible with existing infrastructure. It is truly a perfect example of what the future of urban mobility must look like with the Circular Economy at the heart,” concludes O’Grady.