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Sea Bubble to Trial Autonomous Flying Taxi Systems in Paris by June 2017

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【Summary】Unlike out-of-this-world concepts that never make it to mainstream markets for everyday use or consumption, the SeaBubble could be making an appearance very soon. The company announced it will launch pilot programs on the River Seine in Paris by June 2017.

Original Michael Cheng    Jan 16, 2017 6:18 AM PT

One of the reasons autonomous driving platforms are so disruptive to traditional transportation is due to their robust applications in top-performing sectors. For example, Starship Technologies is using driverless pods to power local deliveries around urban locations, like Washington DC. Moreover, a handful of supply chain-focused businesses are looking to benefit from commercial truck platooning, an autonomous protocol that allows vessels to travel in a "string" formation on highways, by reducing rising fuel costs. 

On the other side of the world, a startup based in Paris, France hopes to leverage self-driving systems in the same manner. But instead of shaking up "last-mile" deliveries or outdated logistics frameworks, the business wants to apply the technology to a fleet of water taxis. During operation, the transportation pods will hover over the water and use electric engines.

Unlike out-of-this-world concepts that never make it to mainstream markets for everyday use or consumption, the SeaBubble could be making an appearance very soon. The company announced it will launch pilot programs on the River Seine in Paris by June 2017, according to its timeline.

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Modern Design

The company has a long list of hurdles to overcome before local residents see the new transportation system in action. First, as mentioned earlier, the pods will run on electric power, supported by solar panels. This would require the company to make huge investments in both solar power and batteries, as well as charging stations near docks (corrosion resistant features are crucial, in this case). Next, the driverless features must be developed fully to ensure safety on rough waters. Technically, since the vessels won't have a lot of competition on the river (and no designated lane requirements, compared to operating on public roads), it could be easier to streamline the maturity of such systems.

SeaBubble will hover several inches above water when in use, greatly reducing drag. The unit is capable of reaching blistering speeds at 25 knots, while relying on a set of water turbines to power the dock's lights, launching components and etc.

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Expansion Projects

The company, which was founded by record-breaking sailors Alain Thébault and Anders Bringdal, is looking to expand operations in London and the US. According to Bringdal (through an interview with The Independent), a fully operational prototype should be available by next month. His partner, Thebault, already has experience building such vessels through a wind-powered trimaran yacht called Hydroptere.

Lastly, it is important to point out that SeaBubble pods are only capable of connecting two land-based hubs bordering bodies of water. The docks would have to be located near land transit stations, like subways or bus terminals, in order for passengers to reach their destination.

"The [river] currents are 24 hours, and we will store the energy in power walls [batteries] to run the taxis for 12 to 15 hours, depending on the power of the river and the size of the turbines. Not in every place but in some places. [The intention] is to try to be as off the grid as much as we can," said Bringdal.

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