In March 2012, international transportation pioneer Bombardier launched an open innovation challenge focused on the future of urban mobility called the YouCity multi-disciplinary Innovation Contest. The challenge was crafting novel ways for developing cities to balance growth with mobility solutions, with the winners getting a trip to an international train expo and innovation camp in Berlin.
I submitted an idea which I called MicroRail. It was essentially small, self guided vehicles on a fixed track off to one side of the road. It was loosely based on the idea of taking a subway or monorail system, and deploying it inexpensively and openly on existing urban streets without requiring a lot of additional infrastructure. It seemed like a smart way to bridge the gap between where we are now, and the future which replaces all cars on the road with driverless vehicles.
A few months after the contest ended, I received an email from the contest organizers: “Although your proposal didn’t make it to the final winners, it was in our shortlist of the most interesting concepts, which was presented to the final jury.” A few weeks later, a solar powered phone charger appeared in my mailbox as a consolation prize. As someone with almost no professional experience in urban planning, transportation or engineering, I was proud to get any acknowledgement at all.
It’s kind of exciting that now, just a year and a half after that competition started, in a totally unrelated development, a similar concept is launching in a town in the United Kingdom called Milton Keynes. Especially awesome is that the idea appeared on the Huffington Post under the headline “…Driverless Pods Could Revolutionise Town Public Transport” [sic: British Revolutionise while Americans Revolutionize]. Clearly the idea was already in the works somewhere, but I’m still calling it a win.