WWF – Urban Solutions for a Living Planet

Been more than a year since the first posting. I’d like to think I’ve been busy, and I have, but startup life is often such that you meet people, have conversations and slowly but steadily progress towards what is then regarded as a “break through”. Those break-throughs don’t happen by chance, they are a combination of many chances and hard work.

This write is about one meeting I had recently, in the WWF (World Wildlife Foundation) Helsinki office. It’s a neat place, with a great view to the sea side occupied by a gigantic cone of coal. 🙂 Really. It’s a good reminder we’re still in the early stages of transition. Transition away from coal, oil and carbon based energy as a whole. But we’ve started.

Hanna-Liisa, my host, gave me two brochures concerning their work. One was handling co-operation with companies (which is great WWF is taking that approach!) and another listed 13 Urban Challenges for the 21st century that they’ve identified.

The Urban Solutions for a Living Planet brochure is awesome. It has a nice layout and it merges both the challenges + some early solutions each on a single page. It’s understandable, and positive.

What immediately came to my mind, was how the BubbleMotion service would help with the suggested issues. How many of the 13 cases would it be able to help tackle?

Here’s the list.

( I actually created a neat graphical presentation of this, but the WWF Sweden copyright people essentially spat on it. We really need to transition also to a society that is more liberal of reuse of content. So here I’m not reusing any of their visuals, but the titles, their ordering and coloring is from the said brochure. )

1. Air

  • Zero local emissions (because we’re electrical)
  • No lifting of dust

    (because we operate in the air)

2. Water

  • Natural water flow and soaking into ground (since we are 0% asphalt)
  • No rain water contamination (because we don’t drop or leak oil)
  • Minimal (or no) water to wash (centralized vehicle cleanup allows to use the latest, most eco-friendly cleaning systems under a controlled environment; also, nano-coating on the vehicles makes dust not stick)
  • Extra: night-time ‘misting’ – smart irrigation of surrounding green areas can be integrated with the track

3. Food

nothing here

4. Ecosystem services & biodiversity

  • Compatible with natural flood buffering (since we can travel over wetlands, parks etc. without changing their ecosystem)
  • Compatible with preservation of habitats and biodiversity

5. Housing & Buildings

  • Low track and station CO2 footprint (since we use 0% cement and recyclable materials s.a. steel)
  • Low construction CO2 footprint (locally producable, transported in standard containers)

6. Mobility & Accessibility

  • As fast as a subway (since we don’t do interim stops)
  • Better coverage than subway (since we are cheaper, scale down and can fit in tighter spaces)
  • Always predictable (since we are immune to road level congestion; 10 mins trip is always 10 mins)
  • Personal for everyone (since we can be travelled alone – even by blind, deaf or motion challenged people)

7. Consumption

  • Shared use of vehicle maximizes their utility value (since the vehicle is yours only during the trip)
  • Better use of city space (since space under the track is usable for pretty much anything)

8. Wastes & Sinks

  • Only applied where it makes sense (since we’re sold as a service, and easily dismantled / moved / re-applied)
  • No waste. (since we’re fully cradle-to-cradle, with modularity and reuse of components in mind)

9. Energy

  • Low wheel resistance (since we’re rail bound)
  • No energy loss in stopping (since we don’t do interim stops)
  • Minimum vehicle weight (since we don’t need passive crash protection)
  • Electric (allows full utilization of renewable energy sources)
  • Smart (energy for vehicle lifts is routed within the track, saving the vehicles’ battery capacity for actual movement)

10. Climate Change Mitigation

  • So energy efficient (-80%) that carbon-neutral operation is sensible (this is really the whole goal; multiple design solutions lead to this)
  • Scalability (since we’re using modular technology and a franchising based business model, scaling of operations to volumes that matter for CO2 is at least theoretically possible)

11. Climate Change Adaptation

  • Tolerant to extreme weather (since the track is simple, round and repairable in parts)
  • Graceful degradation of service (parts of the system can be switched off, while continuing operation on unaffected areas; i.e. switch off flooded stations but operate over such areas)

12. Governance & Citizenship

  • Operated by locals – for locals (since the franchising based business model allows this, and it makes sense)
  • Initiated by locals – together (since our track simulator will be openly available for anyone and easy to use. We’ll help take peoples’ initiatives to professional transport planners – and to reality.)

13. Resilience

  • Fully self-sustainable system (since communications and electricity for the stations is routed within the track; immune to black-outs, Internet shortages and does not use GPS satellites in operation)
  • Anti corruption (putting power in hands of locals – with transparent money flows and real ”fair trade” principles should diminish the power of corruption in societies)
  • Earthquakes are ok (since we can detect Earthquakes some seconds before, and the track has been designed to endure them).

Is that all?


There are also indirect benefits that were not listed above, s.a. the ability to sell vacant battery resources to a smart grid operator. Such business models come into play once there is an operational track and listing them here did not feel right (except for the misting case which was excused).

Also the passenger UI can be used for i.e. educational needs. But we’re hoping the above listed reasons would be enough to get strong support for the BubbleMotion project.

Are there any down sides?

Not really.

One may think of the added ”infrastructure” (tracks etc.) as a visual hindrance, but often it can be used to eliminate existing pillars (i.e. for lighting). The only alternative that has less of visual impact is restricting transportation by itself – or running it by human powered bicycles or steppers. Which we are proponents for, they are cool!

Taxi drivers losing their jobs? Not going to happen. Maybe their sons and daughters won’t be taxi drivers. And – two of the most eager proponents of BubbleMotion so far have been taxi drivers. They knew the daily transport problems best!

Self-driving cars? Sure. But they have a scalability problem, and it will take time for them to be able to drive in India, or the Finnish winter.

That’s my reaction to reading the WWF brochure.

Can we keep on ignoring plans like this? Or wish them ‘good luck’. Damn we’re a spoilt generation!

– asko


[added 9-May-2013]

One more thing.

Safety seems to be omitted from the WWF list. It is important. Transport i.e. in India kills over 100 000 people per year, also in cities. Each lost life is a lost opportunity, and waste also in environmental consideration. No people should die in traffic. Our aim is for zero passenger accidents. In practice, they should be comparable to elevator or aviation accident rates, not road side accidents. This means one or two degrees better safety above the roads than on them.

Future has enough risks already. And stress. We should be safe and relaxing.