In recent decades, "innovative transportation technology" typically refers to information systems like geospatial recognition or automated vehicle control. Yet, under the hood is still the internal combustion engine – hardly "innovative." Fortunately, electric vehicles (EV's) are finally becoming mainstream, and with them new transportation infrastructure such as fast-charging stations and battery production facilities. Yet, these likewise can hardly be considered innovative. Transportation for the 21st century requires truly innovative technologies, particularly those that can make EV's easier to charge and less range-limited.
Two such technologies already exist: linear induction motors (LIM's) and inductive power transfer (IPT). Both can complement EV's, making charging seamless and enabling long-range travel. Further, given that new investment in transportation infrastructure will include electrification, both LIM's and IPT are well poised to fit into this plan. Combined with renewable power, both can help reduce transportation emissions and thus help alleviate climate change.
Although linear motors have existed for decades, their applications have been limited, ranging from amusement park rides to the Navy's Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). LIM's can enable EV's (or any vehicle) to have essentially unlimited range: Conceivably, interstates equipped with "LIM-lanes" could allow EV travel from New York to L.A. on only one charge. LIM's also enhance safety since vehicle spacing is fixed by design, and are easy to maintain since they have no moving parts. They also incorporate regenerative braking that conserves energy and eliminates contaminating runoff from brakes. A NASA LIM prototype for "electromagnetic launch assist," for which the author was co-investigator, is highlighted to illustrate this capability.
Power induction has not been applied to transportation in the U.S., being generally limited to charge household appliances and cell phones. IPT has, however, been used in Europe for decades to charge electric buses. Although inductive chargers for EV's are available in the U.S., plug-in stations continue to dominate here. Nevertheless, IPT offers a safe and convenient means to charge EV's, such as at parking lots or intersections. Other applications include wireless shore power for tractor-trailers, recreational vehicles, and aircraft. Also, since hardline connections are eliminated, IPT affords greater safety, particularly during foul weather. Potential partnerships with industry and government are also suggested.
Given the need to revitalize our transportation infrastructure and reduce emissions, making millions of new EV's easier to use and range-unlimited will be key. And this will depend on truly "innovative" technologies for transportation infrastructure, such as linear motors and inductive power. Both can help make sustainable transportation systems a reality in the 21st century.