Electric Vehicles, Driverless Cars and … the Hyperloop?

Next UH Energy Symposium Will Focus on the Future of Transportation

Anyone stuck on the West Loop at rush hour knows there has to be a better way to get around. What that might look like – and what policies, regulations and infrastructure will be required – is the subject of the final debate in the 2015-16 Energy Symposium Series.

“Navigating the Future of Personal Transportation” is set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 29, in the Houston Room in the University of Houston Student Center South (Entrance 1 off Calhoun Road). The event is free and open to the public. Click here to register and for more information.

There are significant hurdles to widespread adoption of electric or driverless cars, but Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer and interim vice president/vice chancellor for research and technology transfer at UH, says the issue goes beyond finding a replacement for the internal combustion engine. Even if cars don’t change, car-sharing services and Uber-like options hint at a new business model for driving.

And experimentation is underway to determine how cars of the future will be powered. While tests of driverless cars – underway in Austin and elsewhere around the United States – have raised questions about how they will react to human-driven vehicles and how they will make split second decisions to avert a crash, alternative fuels already have hit the marketplace. Some trucks and fleet vehicles run on compressed natural gas, and electric vehicles are slowly gaining traction.

Even mass transit may be in for major change.

“Should we be looking beyond air and high-speed rail to the hyperloop?” Krishnamoorti asks, referring to an idea suggested by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, in which pressurized capsules would travel on an air cushion. “What impact would it have on our existing, aging infrastructure?”

Speakers at the symposium include:

  • ·         Quincy Allen, district engineer for the Houston district of the Texas Department of Transportation. Allen oversees operations in Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Montgomery and Waller counties.
  • ·         Emil H. Frankel, a consultant on transportation policy and public management issues, senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation and a senior advisor for Crosswater Realty Advisors.
  • ·         Ken Laberteaux, senior principal scientist for the Toyota Research Institute-North America. His work is focused on sustainable mobility systems, ride-sharing, demographics, electric vehicles and grid-vehicle interactions.
  • ·         Joshua L. Schank, chief innovation officer at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where he oversees piloting and implementation of new and experimental programs and policy.

Gail Delaughter, transportation reporter for Houston Public Media, will serve as moderator. Media sponsors include Houston Public Media and FuelFix, the Houston Chronicle’s energy website. PKF is sponsor for the reception, which will follow the symposium.