SJSU Research Foundation Hosts International Podcar Alliance Meeting

Buff Thurman

Buford "Buff" Furman

An interdisciplinary group of upwards of 35 SJSU students is creating a next-generation system of truly sustainable urban transportation. The project is a solar-powered automated transit network (ATN) where vehicles travel on a network of guideways elevated 20 to 30 feet above existing roadways.

Aptly named the Spartan Superway, it is being developed by cohorts of students from mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering; industrial design; urban planning; and business, with guidance from Mechanical Engineering Professor Burford “Buff ” Furman and co-founder of the International Institute of Sustainable Transportation, Ron Swenson. The ATN development project began in 2012. Over the past two years, the team has succeeded in constructing a full- and partial-scale operational models of the guideway and suspended vehicles. The next goal is to establish a test track located near the SJSU south campus. The team has already begun to lay out network paths for connection of the north and south campuses and the Tamien Light Rail and Caltrain stations.

The SJSU Research Foundation is closely involved with helping to shape next steps, potential sources of funding and an ecosystem of partners. As an example, the SJSU Research Foundation recently hosted a meeting with external parties who have created a Podcar Alliance, including Professor Furman, Swenson Solar, Futran Podcars from South Africa, and Transit Control Solutions. Professor Furman and the SJSU Research Foundation are also exploring opportunities to establish an Industry-University Cooperative Research Center sponsored by NSF.

Feasibility of the system is being proven by a 1.5 mile long mining application in South Africa based on similar technology that will haul ore from a coal mine. The solution offers the potential for a more cost effective mode of point-to-point, on-demand mode of urban transport that is truly sustainable and also environmentally friendly.

“Our students have a vital and unique role to play in realizing the promise of solar-powered ATNs,” said Professor Furman. “The whole enterprise is simultaneously advancing the system’s technology and educating the workers and entrepreneurs who will step into this new transit paradigm when it gains widespread acceptance.”

Below: SJSU students Cory Ostermann and Man Ho verify operation of the 1/12 scale of the Spartan Superway ATN model.