Over 90% of traffic accidents are caused by driver error; the safety potential of self-drive is well understood.  When traffic accidents become rare, a motorcycle is almost as safe as an SUV.   Vehicle weights could fall to the point that pod-cars weighing less than the riders are the preferred choice in the city. Since 65% of U.S. vehicle miles traveled (VMT) are urban, the ramifications are enormous. An aerodynamic ultra-light vehicle that avoids stop-and-go needs only one-tenth the energy of an automobile; a 25 pound battery would suffice. Light batteries can be easily swapped, eliminating range anxiety. A bank of batteries can be recharged when the wind blows and the sun shines. Fossil fuel demand, pollution and green house gas production could fall dramatically.

For most people, transportation automation is rocket science.  The Elcano Project aims to make self-drive real for students and hobbyists, and build a popular demand to go ahead with traffic automation. The technology is here; laws and policies to take advantage of it are not.

An isolated autonomous car can improve safety, but the other benefits require choreographing road users; when done right, highway capacity goes up three to eight times, and congestion mostly disappears. If manual and automated traffic were allowed to mix, the manually driven cars would snarl up the automated lane; thus there needs to be separated lanes. A lane set apart for automated vehicles looks a lot like Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), a technology that has been around for more than 40 years. Today PRT systems are in operation; other automated road systems are only at the testing phase.

When an automated vehicle is in a reserved lane, the sensors get simpler and less expensive — no need for lidar, radar or extensive machine vision. The Elcano Project provides a blueprint for building your own experimental automated vehicle using electronics and sensors costing under $1000.  A tricycle with an electric helper motor under 750 Watt and top speed under 20 mph is legally a bicycle, and thus street-legal without license, registration or insurance.

T. C. Folsom, (2012)Energy and Autonomous Urban Land VehiclesIEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Summer, pp. 28-38 .
Published paper ($27)
Draft (free)

T. C. Folsom (2013A) “Self-Driving Tricycles”, International Bicycle Urbanism Symposium, Seattle, June 19-22.
Self-Drive Trikes

T. C. Folsom (2013B) “The Modular Bus”, Traffic Technology International, Aug-Sept.
Future Mobility


2 thoughts on “Theory”

  1. You guys have my support. If possible I would love to join you guys but I’m doing my terminal degree at school. One of my dreams is to build a very fast and inexpensive bicycle system. The trike is a good way to go, or also two-wheeled recumbent with fairings may be good for more advanced stabilizing systems.

    I am still working on my terminal degree at school in San Diego, but I would also love to learn more about this project or how to get involved. All my life I have been stuck with abject traffic congestion near my hometown around Los Angeles and have sought ways out of the misery. As such, I do have a few ideas myself, but I could leave those as options.

    Brian Chow

    1. Brian, first the team would like to extend a big thank you for supporting us. To get involved is simple. Just let us know what you would like to contribute and we can all work with you to get your ideas incorporated into the project. Working remotely is not an issue as we have all of our software and hardware libraries hosted on GitHub. If you would like, we can add you to our work group and email list so you are able to contribute to the project in real time. let us know what you think!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Open Source Autonomy