Mass transit is rapidly evolving as strategic innovations make mobility better, faster, and stronger. Through scientific breakthroughs and research, next-gen transportation is producing more efficient vehicles.
In a recent interview with Wired magazine, Jim Toth, VP of Technology at TE Connectivity and an expert in advanced materials, outlined ways that scientific research is impacting both transportation and the world at large. Toth has devoted his career to transportation infrastructure R&D, and he suggests that research informs design at the same time that engineering needs direct research. “It’s an iterative process. People go to labs with an idea of the problem they’re trying to solve. But more often than not, the problem they wind up solving is not the one they started with. There’s serendipity, and sometimes what you find meets a need that people didn’t anticipate.”
The introduction of self-driving capabilities has come about as manufacturers are now able to insert computers into their vehicles. First sensors became more powerful, then visual recognition followed. While sensors exist throughout today’s vehicles, “You couldn’t do that even 10 years ago,” Toth reminds us, “because it was too expensive.” He says that today’s high speeds of communications through sensors allow cars to talk to each other instantaneously, and robust high-speed communication systems in cars available through sensors allow better communication than ever before. That, in turn, gives drivers the tools to make decisions faster.
Lightweighting & Stronger Mass Transit Materials
But other, less obvious changes are taking place in mass transit, too. Mass transit of the future is about building lighter vehicles and structures but also stronger ones, and there are many possibilities with lightweighting. Lightweighting is a process that utilizes smaller amounts of material for manufacturing and saves embodied energy, which then decreases environmental impact. One way those goals are becoming a reality is from structures made with 3-D printing, which can produce what Toth calls “some pretty novel porous structures—like latticework.” With inherent strength, such structures can cut out 50 percent of the weight because of a latticework skin underneath. “We can also model structures and materials now, experiment on the computer,” Toth notes, “which is a hell of a lot faster.”