Intelligent Energy

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Superbus!

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Superbus!

Posting in Aerospace

It does not go airborne, but this Dutch mass transit electric vehicle flies down the highway at the velocity of high-speed rail.

At first glance it looks like a stretch limo on steroids, but any association with the iconic gas-guzzler ends there.

Holland’s six-wheel Superbus, the brainchild of one of the country’s first astronauts, runs on electricity and hits speeds of 250 kilometers per hour (155 mph).

It’s no coincidence that that’s the equivalent of European high-speed rail, because former astronaut Wubbo Ockels is positioning Superbus as a low-cost alternative to new rail infrastructure. (Watch the Superbus jet down the roadway on YouTube).

Ockels, an aerospace engineering professor at Holland’s Delft University of Technology, says that Superbus “injects a whole new stimulation of public transport.”

The “bus” is 15 meters (49 feet) long, about the same as an ordinary transport bus. But Ockels notes, “it’s much lower and it’s much more aerodynamic (and) it uses same amount of energy at 250 kilometers per hour as a normal bus does with 100 (62 miles per hour). And it’s electric, so it fits with the future.”

He and his team at Delft are in the final stages of testing Superbus. Ockels hopes to have a pilot deployment “within a few years” and is looking for partners to help commercialize it.

An Italian woman, Antonia Terzi, designed it. Although Terzi has experience designing Formula One races cars, she described the Superbus project as a “white piece of paper” and a “fantastic challenge.”

Of course, there’s a huge safety question of how to run 155-mph vehicles along roads that are carrying cars limited to 70 miles per hour or at a standstill in traffic.

But fast-forwarding, so to speak, can you imagine these things pulling in and out of Greyhound stations? With respect to Simon and Garfunkel, “‘Kathy,’ I said as we boarded a Superbus in Pittsburgh,” just wouldn’t evoke the same emotion as the original lyrics in their classic “America.”

That’s progress. Maybe one day the venerable bus line will have to re-brand itself. Make way for SuperDog. But please, make the road safe first.

Note: The idea for this story came during a clean technology tour of Amsterdam partially funded by the Dutch government.

Photo: Car Addicts

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure