Monday, October 18, 2010
For those of you expecting, from the last post, for me to explain my method of requiring only a byte-sized communications to perform a merge, I’m afraid I have to retract that claim. What seemed, at first glance, to be a two-bit digital message is more accurately a couple of blips in an analogue signal, because the timing of the blips is part of the message. It is a moot point, though, because from a transmission point of view it is much smaller and simpler than preparing any sized packet, the usual way of sending it in digitized form.
I want to reiterate that I am not trying to reinvent the wheel. Some variant of ordinary digital networking technology is certainly the way to go as a primary system. I believe, however, that the following examination is worth doing for a number of reasons. For one thing, it forces us to look squarely at the details of the task at hand, which gives direction to what future PRT software and network structure might look like. Secondly, it relates more directly to the kind of systems that have gained regulatory approval in the past, such as trains or people movers. It is possible that it might be simpler to gain approval for a system that is built on top of the same kind of circuit-switched system logic that older, approved systems use. Thirdly, if there will be a back-up system, it would seem logical to have something dissimilar enough to be easily and completely partitioned from the primary. Lastly, this blog has some role to play as an educational resource. Exploration of the problems of control and safety can be simplified by doing so in an allegorical way, since most readers are not well versed in modern telecommunications methodologies. All that being said…
This illustration shows the information accumulated over a few seconds by two proximity sensors positioned at corresponding locations on the two tracks leading to an upcoming merge point. The vertical lines represent units of time and the numbered “blips” represent PRT vehicles. In an animated version of this illustration everything would be traveling right to left, so that information gathered on the left of the picture is older than the information on the right. Imagine it like a window looking out on a highway with the traffic moving right to left, and a snapshot has been taken as the fourth vehicle crosses the midpoint of the field of vision.
Here a reference voltage drops with the breaking of a beam, although other schemes could be used. In this example the vehicles mark twice, once at the front of the vehicle and once at the back. This enables the calculation of velocity. This, then, gives all of the necessary information required to determine if the sampled vehicles will have a conflict at the merge point, and what routines can be used to solve it. Additional monitoring points can be used to create a complete picture of traffic, although from any particular vehicle’s point of view very little of that picture is actually relevant. The picture above represents the “view” of vehicle 4.
Below shows the required broadcast areas for such a system. Traveling through such an area gives each vehicle a chance to construct a representation like the illustration above by “listening” to the traffic cross the sensors in real time. Each vehicle would have a different “picture.” I would suggest that sending the data directly in such a raw form through dedicated channels, fibers or circuits might well make more sense than digitizing it on the spot and directing it through a multicast addressing protocol, especially as a back-up system. In such a scheme normal attenuation (fading of the signal as distance from the transmission source increases) could limit the communications to the relevant vehicles. Note, however, that no communication between vehicles is actually required. If they all have the same information they would, in theory, move independently in the “faith” that neighboring vehicles would be moving as expected as well. This would be highly risky but for the fact that some form of headway distance monitoring is already required as part of a collision avoidance safety system.
I dislike, as is well known, the notion of complicating the track with sensors and controllers as a general rule, and this scheme doesn’t change that. But one can never weigh any trade-off without examining both sides. This round goes to the wayside control model, although a vehicle-based equivalent is doable. For example, the vehicles themselves could “sound-off” as they pass a marker or RFID tag, and a pair of non-interfering RF channels could be used in a leaky feeder system. (I believe I have been too worried about “cross-talk” with a leaky feeder system. There should be plenty of radio bands available that can coexist on one or more cables.)
On a personal note, I am back from New Hampshire, and will get to my Email backlog very soon. Besides making a portable shower stall that snaps together like Styrofoam Legos and a solar hot water heater, I made good progress on this 14x18’ experimental structure that will be a garage/shop/storage building and a place to hang an electrical meter. (My cabin is too far from the road for electric service, but I really need my power tools) I have been a busy boy! I wish I had cleaned the site a bit before taking the picture, but it’s all clean and partially sheathed now. By the way, what’s shown is less than $1600. into the project, including everything – labor, delivery, and materials. (including the 25 tons of gravel under the insulated, pre-plumbed slab) I should have it completely dried in for under $8. sq. ft. Now that’s sweat equity!… and my excuse for posting so infrequently over the past 7 weeks. I thought you all might like to know where I’ve been.