What Needs To Be Standardized? (Maxi Taxi 2)

In the Maxi Taxi 1 blog we introduced the Maxi Taxi concept as a thought experiment to explore how people transportation can be made to be more efficient by whole system design.

The Maxi Taxi is a passenger transportation concept that, through standardization, aims to rapidly increase system efficiencies. System efficiencies are different from component efficiencies and potentially have much more powerful payoffs.

The Federal Government aims to increase efficiencies of cars by about 100% in the foreseeable future. That is a very laudable goal, but, if that goal is achieved, we will not know how much less fuel we will burn because we are not working to an underlying standard or restriction.

Therefore, once the greater fuel efficiencies are achieved, it could very well occur that, due to strongly reduced fuel operational costs, customers can afford to purchase larger cars, which then, in turn, end up burning more fuel and which then results in reduced system efficiency gains.

This market reaction actually explains why US cars tend to be larger than European cars; it is the cost of the fuel that is needed to run the car that drives the size of the car. The cost of fuel is higher per gallon in Europe and therefore Europeans tend to purchase smaller cars. No market is totally free, and a government can also encourage small car purchase by taxing larger cars, or cars that burn more fuel. However, that approach is also fraught with difficulties and can be best explained by noting that rich purchasers will buy the latest technologies to get fuel efficient large cars and poorer citizens are stuck having to drive second hand less efficient cars. Therefore these programs tend to lack fairness, or cost government additional subsidy money.

Oddly, this issue can be circumvented with the Maxi Taxi concept. The Maxi Taxi concept pushes car design to a more constrained system through standardization. This standardization would still allow individual car efficiencies to be gradually increased, but these efficiency gains contribute directly to the system and increased system efficiencies benefit everybody.

The question is: what needs to be standardized, and would we be willing to pay the price (With consumer products that often is an emotional cost) for this standardization?

In containerization there actually is very little standardization. This is the present list:

1.    All containers have the same width

2.    All containers have uniform securing and lifting points

3.    All containers have compatible strength and capacities

4.    All containers have a unique number

5.    There are maximum container weigth limits and stack limits

6.    And after this it gets a little fuzzy. Originally there were only two lengths and two heights, but today that is no longer true, and now there are many lengths and heights. But, regardless, each container still fits (relatively) seamlessly into the whole transportation system.

Remarkably one can make a similar list for internet communications, which in turn explains why the internet has exploded so quickly even though today’s internet looks nothing like the original internet. (It also explains why healthcare in the US is so incredibly expensive; no system standardization.)

So what minimum standardization would be required for Maxi Taxi? The standardization is actually very similar to shipping containers:

1.    All Maxi Taxis have the same width, and at this time we are using a width of 5 feet. (as compared to a width of 8 feet for containers)

2.    All Maxi Taxis have identical front and back profiles

3.    All Maxi Taxis have the same turning circle (28 feet at this stage)

4.    All Maxi Taxis have compatible automations

5.    All Maxi Taxis have a unique number

6.    All Maxi Taxis have at least one main sliding door on the right side

7.    For passenger traffic all Maxi Taxis have the same height when empty (6.2 feet at this stage) and the same length (14 feet overall, 12 feet stacked).

8.    Maxi Taxis will eventually probably have a maximum axle load and a maximum weight per foot length and a minimum acceleration requirement, but that is not yet a terribly important consideration

Standardizing width has immense carry on-benefits. First it allows the construction of uniform roads for Maxi Taxi use (and meanwhile Maxi Taxis can still operate on random roads), but, second, it allows Maxi Taxis to link up in a low air drag automated train (convoy) when driving on highways at higher speeds.

Highway convoys are a neat concept that will quickly follow the adoption of automated driving. Cars that follow each other closely, combined, use substantially less fuel than cars that follow at present safe driving distances. Automation, which is much more reliable and can react faster than humans, will only require a few inches space between Maxi Taxis even at highway speeds.  Furthermore, if it is possible to reduce the spacing between cars, we can fit more cars on the highway, which thereby allows larger amounts of people and cargo to be moved on our present highways, or, even better will allow more rapid and efficient highway merging.

One of the two reasons for having the fixed profile on the Maxi Taxis is to allow cars to follow each other with a nice evenly spaced gap between the cars. At first it must seem strange to move at high speed on the highway one car very closely behind the other, but it is actually little different from looking at the gap between two subway cars.

The other reason for the standard profile is to allow the Maxi Taxis to be parked as closely as possible on ferries and in garages. It is actually more efficient to build Maxi Taxis with sloped windshields and reverse sloped rears because the sloped windshield will reduce drag in single car operation, and the sloped front and rear actually allows more passengers to fit in the car for the same length per car. This is why the Maxi Taxi is ruled by two dimensions. To fit one in a garage one needs to allow 14 feet, but when many are stored in a single row, only a little more than 12 feet per Maxi Taxi is needed.

The other standardization characteristics of the concept are probably pretty obvious. The fixed turning circle allows uniform turning behavior and associated road design.  Once there is automated driving, it is very important that the cars behave in a coordinated manner and that the cars communicate properly to each other and over the (wireless) internet.  And as long as there is one sliding door on the right side, only uniform access to the car from the right needs to be provided.

For passenger traffic, as introduced in our Maxi Taxi 1 blog, the Maxi Taxis will have only one length and height, but that is simply a requirement to allow for standardized ferry and parking garage design.

However, the concept does not require that all Maxi Taxis are identical. What is most interesting is that there are quite a large number of design features that are completely open to be changed or adjusted by anybody who wants to engage in Maxi Taxi design and manufacturing, just as has happened with shipping container design and manufacturing (and the internet).

For example the propulsion package (or drive train as car guys tend to say) is almost completely undefined. It is actually possible to power a Maxi Taxi with a gas engine and conventional drive train, but, on the other hand, for the ferry concept, the Maxi Taxi would be much more efficiently powered by a battery pack since, in the ferry concept, as a car pool vehicle, it will initially only drive about 50 miles per day.

If the government were to institute the above standards (or similar standards) for future car designs, car manufacturers will compete to provide the most effective package within the constraints provided, and, undoubtedly, some very impressive efficiency gains will be achieved.

Will such a government standard, restricting the width of our cars, infringe on our rights? Will it makes us unhappy? This will be discussed in later Maxi Taxi blogs.

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