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The Future Shape of Transportation

An HSST system under development. This normal conductivity maglev system generates very little noise and vibration.

With its wide, well-developed roads and functional highway network, Aichi is known for being relatively easy to get around in by car, as compared to other urban areas in Japan. Nevertheless, Aichi's heavy traffic and accompanying environmental problems are growing worse by the year. The article below looks at how Aichi is developing cutting-edge technology to overcome the problems associated with its traffic system as it heads into the twenty-first century.

Transportation for a new era
ITS: No more traffic jams
A testing ground for the future

Transportation for a new era

A roughly 1.5-kilometer High Speed Surface Transport test track runs from Oe Station in Nagoya to the eastern shores of Nagoya Port. HSST trains are normal conductivity maglev trains, which means that they levitate on electromagnets as they are propelled along by linear motors. The train levitates about 8 millimeters above the tracks and can reach speeds of up to 100 km per hour. Expectations are high that this new transportation system will someday replace conventional railroads.

"The greatest advantage of HSST," says Takayuki Matsumoto of the Chubu HSST Development Corporation's Technical Development Division, "is that it generates very little noise and vibration even at high speeds. With conventional trains, there is contact between the wheels and the rails, which puts a limit on how far you can reduce noise and vibration. With HSST, however, the train is levitated by magnetic force, and so the tracks cause absolutely no friction. Even if you stand just a couple of meters away from an HSST train moving at 100 kph, the only thing you will hear is the sound of the train cutting through air."

Aichi is currently planning to build a railway line that will run from Yakusa Station in the heart of the Aichi Academic Research and Development Zone to Fujigaoka Subway Station in Nagoya. To be called the Tobukyuryo Line, the proposed 8.9-km route has planners worried because it runs through several areas with steep slopes and densely populated residential areas where noise and vibration from a train would be a problem.

"Since HSST uses linear motors," explains Matsumoto, "it won't lose a great deal of speed going up steep slopes. In addition, since it produces very little noise and vibration, it will also reduce the impact on adjacent residential areas to the greatest extent possible."

In July 1999 a panel of experts from academia and industry and officials from the Aichi and Nagoya governments concluded that the maglev would be the optimum system for the Tobukyuryo Line. This will be the world's first full-scale operation of a maglev system, and the early completion of this next-generation transport system is being eagerly awaited.

Meanwhile, studies are underway for a transportation system to run between venues at the 2005 World Exposition Aichi, Japan. As of now the highly efficient Intelligent Multimode Transit System under development by Toyota Motor Corp. is the top candidate.

A trial run of the IMTS system at Toyota Motor Corp.'s Higashifuji Technical Center, located in the city of Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture. In this system, a row of computer-operated buses moves in convoy, negotiating curves as if the buses were being controlled by human drivers.
IMTS is a totally new type of transport, where up to 10 buses travel in convoy, maintaining a fixed distance between one another much like the cars of a train. It is also possible to put these buses on "automatic pilot" by means of a computerized control system. Each bus comes equipped with radar, sensors, and communications equipment to keep each vehicle updated on the others' speeds and other information. The buses are able to start and stop in perfect unison.

The greatest advantages of IMTS are lower costs and energy conservation. All it takes is to equip preexisting buses with the necessary equipment to run on the system and install small magnetic guide markers along the roads that the buses will be running on. The system is also very flexible: the number of buses can be adjusted from 10, when the passenger load is heavy, down to just 1 or 2 when it is light. This makes it possible to cut back on fuel consumption.

At the end of October 1999 Toyota held demonstrations of IMTS for the media, stressing the fact that this technology has already seen real-world applications.

ITS: No more traffic jams

Aichi will see many of these next-generation transportation systems become reality early in the twenty-first century. Of particular note will be Intelligent Transportation Systems, to be operated on a trial basis during EXPO 2005.

ITS is a totally new concept integrating all means of transport, such as automobiles, and transportation infrastructure, including roads, into a large, seamless network using sophisticated telecommunications technology. ITS is expected to contribute greatly to reducing traffic congestion, preventing accidents, and conserving energy. Countries around the world, convinced that ITS is the key to solving highway traffic problems, are researching and developing ITS-related technologies.

The idea common to all embodiments of these systems is the use of leading-edge telecommunications technology. This is typified by two real-world applications: the car navigation system and the Vehicle Information and Communication System, a navigation terminal that delivers traffic and other road information in real time.

Compact electric cars in the Crayon communal-use automobile system operated by Toyota. Drivers can leave the cars at any designated parking place in the region.
There are still very few examples, however, of entire transportation systems being remodeled around the ITS concept. One example that shines among existing systems is Crayon, a local-community communal transportation system of small electric cars that Toyota began operating around its head office in the city of Toyota in July 1999. Just one or two people can operate a Crayon vehicle within a radius of 30 kilometers. Under this system, you can get in one car, drive it to where you need to go, and leave it at any designated battery-charger-equipped parking space. Everything in the system is computerized, from rental fees for the time used and reservations to car delivery and real-time operational monitoring. At present about 50 electric cars are in use under the system, which is being test operated by Toyota and municipal government workers.

Takashi Suda, project manager for the Toyota ITS Planning Division, says of the experiment: "Electric cars are an extremely effective means of protecting the environment. Yet because these cars have not yet found widespread acceptance, they are still expensive. We thus came up with the idea of keeping car ownership at the local community level in order to spread out the costs of purchasing them. It's extremely difficult, though, to manage a communal system manually. This system would have been impossible to implement without advances in telecommunications networking technology."

Toyota proposed a similar system in the late 1970s. The technology at the time, however, was not up to the task: The project got bogged down trying to ascertain road conditions and keeping track of reservations, and it never reached the testing stage.

"It's possible that the idea of using Intelligent Transportation Systems to keep car ownership at the community rather than personal level will take off. We have ironed out all the technical details and are now hoping to make real-world applications in the near future," said Suda.

A testing ground for the future

Toru Murase of the Aichi Prefectural Government's Information Systems and Industry Division, the driving force behind the effort to make ITS a reality, explains the significance of Aichi's efforts: "About 70% of Aichi's transportation load is taken up by automobiles. Aichi residents are highly dependent on cars to get around in their day-to-day lives, which unfortunately exacerbates such undesirable effects as traffic jams, accidents, and pollution. If ITS can alleviate these negative factors, it would make the automobile that much greater a blessing for society as a whole."

Aichi was the first to create an organization devoted to promoting ITS when it founded the Aichi ITS Council in July 1998. The council is now moving aggressively to incorporate ITS technology not only on highways and city streets but also in railways, air traffic, and shipping.

"Aichi has several major projects underway, "Murase notes. "In addition to the hosting of EXPO 2005 and the opening of the Central Japan International Airport in 2005, the construction of the New Tomei-Meishin Expressway will also be picking up at the turn of the next century. The 2005 World Exposition Aichi, Japan, in particular will be a chance to test leading-edge ITS technologies that promise to meet many of the needs of a grayer society. I guess you could call the EXPO a huge testing ground for the future. This field is broader than just road traffic, and we plan on carrying forward an ITS concept that fits the car-reliant Aichi society."

The details of Aichi's next-generation transportation systems are expected to unfold over the next few years under the world's eager gaze.

(Photos by Masatoshi Sakamoto, Text by Masahiro Ota)