Can This Startup End Traffic as We Know It?

Michael Alba | Comments | February 26, 2018

An Arrivo pod zooming along at 200mph. (Image courtesy of Arrivo.)

“Nationally, we lost more than $300 billion in 2017 to traffic.”

So claimed Ryan Kraft, director of engineering at Arrivo, on the main stage at SOLIDWORKS World 2018 earlier this month. Arrivo is a startup with a simple goal: to end traffic as we know it. Founded in 2016 in Los Angeles, Calif.(a city not known for her free-flowing streets), Arrivo is attempting to build a dedicated transportation infrastructure in the form of a high-speed super urban network. Think of a cross between a hyperloop and a maglev train, put it in a dense urban setting, and you’ve got Arrivo.

“When we look at roads and railways, those are very effective technologies, and they’re the backbone of mobility today,” continued Kraft. “We’re looking at the future, where more people are living in cities, and roads and railways will continue to struggle. What we’ve got here is an idea to have a dedicated infrastructure with actively controlled vehicles that can have very, very high throughput and can get people to go where they want in a very,very short period of time.”

Conceptual artwork for different types of Arrivo sleds. (Image courtesy of Arrivo.)

The Arrivo infrastructure consists of a magnetic levitating track that supportsa few different types of sleds. Although a dedicated passenger pod is an option, one unique aspect of Arrivo is its concept of a sled that ferries your personal vehicle through a tube.

“The idea would be to carry people’s existing vehicles in a dedicated infrastructure that’s extremely reliable,” explained Kraft. “And we could go a lot faster. A key thing about our technology is very short headways—or gaps—between vehicles. That allows us to move people in the tens of thousands per hour in a single lane, compared to conventional highways, which can only do between two and three.”

 

Is Arrivo a Hyperloop?

Simulated image of an Arrivo tube alongside regular traffic—a system Arrivo calls the City Zipper. (Image courtesy of Arrivo.)

The issue of a more effective mode of transportation was broughtinto the public consciousness in 2012, when engineering superstar Elon Musk and a team of SpaceX engineers introduced their concept for a vacuum tube pod system they called the hyperloop. The idea captured the imagination of many engineers, spawning a number of companies dedicated to realizing the hyperloop vision.

One of those companies was HyperloopOne, which is probably the most successful hyperloop venture to date. Last year, Hyperloop One made history by conducting the world’s first full-scale, full systems test of a hyperloop at its test track in the Nevada desert.

It so happens that one of the cofounders of Hyperloop One, a former SpaceX engineer named Brogan BamBrogan, is also the founder of Arrivo (BamBrogan left Hyperloop One in 2016 amidst a bitter and bizarre lawsuit). So, the resemblance of Arrivo’s network to the hyperloop is not coincidental, although there are some fundamental differences between the two systems. While the hyperloop was envisioned as a vacuum tube environment, the Arrivo network will work in regular old air—friction and all. Though this limits the system’s speed compared to a hyperloop, Arrivo’s network is meant to connect urban hotspotsrather than cities (Musk’s original concept for the hyperloop envisioned a track between LA and San Francisco). SoArrivo’s speed, maxing out at around 200mph to the hyperloop’s 700mph, will still be plenty fast enough for passengers going to and from the airport, for example.

Ultimately, the goals of a hyperloop and those of Arrivo are quite similar.

“We wanted to work on a problem that was really hard, where engineering could make a big difference, but that could affect almost everyone. And that’s where Arrivo came from,” Kraft told the audience at SOLIDWORKS World.

 

A Budding Transportation Startup

Brogan BamBrogan (center) and the other founders of Arrivo. (Image courtesy of Arrivo.)

Startup companies face a number of obstacles, and that goes double for startups with visions as grandiose as Arrivo’s. But, as Kraft explained, being a startup also has its advantages.

“We were very fortunate as a startup [in] that we could start without any legacy. And when we looked into the market for what would be the right thing to grow a company of largely mechanical engineers, but also electrical and some analysts, into a full company of a couple hundred engineers in the future, we were looking at a few main criteria.

“Number one was startup speed and just being able to get going. Number two was medium-term scalability, meaning what features could we add and how much would it cost in the next one to two years, and then three? What could the platform do? Did it have all the power that we needed to do hardcore analysis of complicated systems like this? And so, with those criteria, 3DX on the cloud with CATIA was a clear winner.”

Arrivo, though still in its infancy, has already announced some major milestones. In a public-private partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Arrivo will build a test site along the E-470 toll road east of Denver. If all goes well, Arrivo hopes to have a commercial system up and running in three to four years.

“The long-term vision for us is not just to move people quickly through our infrastructure, whether it be in their cars or in a pod that we build, but also to depart the infrastructure and deliver you the last mile to your destination. So, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” said Kraft.

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