A proposal for a new city bus for London, England, is the basis for a new vehicle designed to carry both passengers and freight for urban collection and distribution. The objective is to exploit periods when demand for passenger transportation is reduced, with a vehicle that can be adapted to carry both freight and passengers.
The proposal, from designer Hugh Frost, involves both a new vehicle, which carries the working title Freight*BUS, and a new urban transportation system, “On-Route.” By combining passenger and freight movements, “On-Route” could reduce urban delivery traffic by as much as 50%.
The vehicle follows the design for a traditional London double-decker bus with seating for up to 90 passengers and standing space for a further 40, when used solely for passenger transportation. Alternatively, it could carry up to 35 “freight pods.” Each pod occupies the same floor area as a Euro pallet measuring 1200 x 800 mm (47.2 x 31.5 in). Freight*BUS has been designed for production in modular form to provide a range of lengths. Four-, six-, and eight-wheeled versions could be produced.
Although Freight*BUS is still at the design stage, Frost told Automotive Engineering International (AEI) that the vehicle has been designed to be constructed largely from composite materials. One possibility is a pultrusion GRP (glass-reinforced plastic) type construction, “probably using carbon fiber or stronger materials in strategic areas,” said Frost.
He described the construction as containing “an element of box chassis, plus a degree of monocoque,” combining elements of both construction methods. “We certainly saw it being produced in some form of composite material rather than aluminum,” continued Frost. “It doesn’t rule out sheet versions, but the concept of it, being molded panels and ultimately some form of fast assembly system. And I think there are proprietary systems around that we would probably lock into. To a certain degree, we would be driven by their expertise in those areas. Light weight is important to us, from an environmental point of view, that was the overall concept."
“The strong vertical panels on the sides above the wheel arches really were to give it a load bracing point, so there will be stronger verticals there that will take the load bearings. That is particularly relevant for the craneage concept that fits on the inside,” said Frost.
The crane system is the subject of a patent application, and full details have not yet been disclosed, but Frost described the broad principles to AEI: “It’s a concept of moving materials around without using pallets. A module would simply be a contained quantity of materials, but the base of the box doesn’t need to be particularly strong. It’s the actual means of moving it around that spreads the load. The actual lift acts as the pallet.”
Freight*BUS can carry passengers and freight in combination or at night be turned over to freight transport only. Seating on both decks consists of double passenger seats suspended from the ceiling using anti-vibration mounts. The seats can be folded away into the ceiling very quickly to provide cargo space.
“Firstly, we can segregate the upper deck completely, so the lower deck only is accessed from the front door,” explained Frost. “When there are low volumes of passengers, we can still carry people on the lower front. Freight is rear lower and upper completely. We’ve got to watch a little on weight, balance and related issues, but it could also operate the other way round. It could have freight downstairs and people upstairs. It’s a bit more difficult because of the rear access isolation.”
The vehicle is designed to be propelled by an electric powertrain. A 200-mm (7.9-in) deep space beneath the lower floor can accommodate batteries, a hydrogen fuel-cell stack, and accompanying hydrogen storage tanks or an internal-combustion engine of around 2.0-L capacity that would serve as an onboard generator in a serial hybrid-style powertrain.
Frost believes that current advances in battery technology should make an onboard hydrogen fuel cell unnecessary. A rapid recharge system could be applied at bus termini or stops through built-in charging points. Alternatively, the cargo handling system could be designed to rapidly exchange a discharged battery pack for a recharged pack. “Potentially, it could have a battery that is exchanged three or four times a day,” Frost said. “Then we can keep it very small. Then, ideally, we could have a massive reserve of batteries that sits in the grid, that’s pulling down power at off-peak times, using ‘green’ energy.”
The battery pack would then supply power to hub motors to drive the vehicle. The hubs would combine drive and regenerative braking and also permit a variety of steering modes to maximize the maneuverability of the vehicle.
No major OEMs have become involved in the project to date. Frost would hope to license production of the Freight*BUS to a number of manufacturers to meet demand in different areas of the world.