Friday, December 31, 2010

113> 2010 – Historic!

It has been said, “History is written by the victors.” Well it appears that the victor, in the war of competing PRT standards, is the ULTra/2Getthere steerable design. It is reasonable to assume that the systems will work as advertised… well enough to get some new contracts while continually improving. Therefore:

“PRT” now means automatic, driverless cars that travel on pavement. It doesn’t really matter anymore that PRT started out as something different. PRT is, and will be, a short-range automatic shuttle service for airports, campuses and the like. PRT will require snow plowing, battery charging and replacement, and will compete for space with cars, bicycles, golf carts, or pedestrians. Get used to it.

The fact that some of us have tried (or are still trying) to craft PRT as a next century transit solution is beside the point. That is not what PRT will be in the minds of most people a decade from now. As the folks at ULTra proudly point out, they have more people working on “PRT” in their company than all other PRT companies combined. To those of us who see PRT’s potential as a means to a more environmentally sustainable and efficient future, I can only say we had better retool our message, and do it fast.

Of course Masdar and Heathrow will have one beneficial effect. They will demonstrate the viability of computer-directed traffic management for small, automated vehicles. At least that is one hurdle out of the way…but honestly…was that outcome ever in doubt?

Our goal will be, then, to widen the discussion to include less pavement, not more, higher speeds, longer distances, more efficient ways to deliver power to the motors, much larger scale networks, etc. It will be hard to talk about it, though, because the term “PRT” has switched from being overly inclusive to being downright misleading. Now discussions about PRT deployment for a city will logically begin with providing ground-level right-of-way, similar to mapping out potential bicycle lanes. Discussions about elevating significant portions of this “track,” I predict, will end pretty quickly, as the logistics become apparent.

I think I like the term “microrail PRT.” (Not to be confused with “MicroRail,” a small gauge train from MegaRail Transportation Systems Inc.) It is reminiscent of the word “monorail” but obviously refers to something smaller. Remember, most people have no idea what PRT is, and it takes a while to explain. Say “microrail PRT” and they might get a picture of a tiny monorail in their heads. (or maybe something on a roller coaster track) Either way, it’s minimal and elevated. PERFECT!

I think PRT, as it was originally envisioned, was really a multipart invention. It synergistically combined the concept of many small computer-controlled vehicles with the concept of an electrically powered light rail system that could be economically run above street traffic. 
 
The cost of free-spanning, beam-like support structures, you see, is reduced exponentially (I’m using the term informally) as their weight bearing requirements are reduced. It’s like fleas jumping 200 times their body length. Some things are possible only at smaller scales. The lightest human-carrying vehicles are in a weight range where a single-beam track can be almost ridiculously cheap, especially when compared with the other options in densely populated areas.  It is true that access-for-the-disabled laws, or any scheme that enables capacity much beyond the average (110kg for autos) occupancy greatly increases track costs. That was a clear lesson of Raytheon’s PRT debacle. Nonetheless, carefully designed vehicles can still allow track costs that would enable a true transportation revolution… of that I am convinced. This is both the challenge and promise of PRT… er… microrail PRT…hmmm… microrail podcars?  Automated Microtrack Transit? Autonomous Minirail Transit?   HELP! We need a new name!                 
                                                   Happy New Year!

24 comments:

Andrew F said...

I hope you had a good holiday season, Dan. It is looking like supported car-like PRT won the race for first implementation. I think it was essentially inevitable, as it is the most conservative, lowest risk paradigm for small starter systems. I think even ULTra will eventually come around to suspended captive-bogey as it will allow them to access markets that their current technology simply won't allow. I also imagine that they are in an ideal position to leverage their existing R&D into such a system, for guidance, routing, safety considerations, etc.

Buck up! I'm not good at marketing, so I'm not going to make any suggestions. I'll note that that fellow claims to have 'microrail' trademarked, so that might be a stumbling block.

akauppi said...

Good New Year, indeed, Dan!

From where I see it, the climate for PRT (or whatever) is becoming better and better every year. 2008 it was rediculed. 2009 listened to. 2010 called for. I hope this trend is spotted by the other PRT (or whatever) enablers, and will carry on in 2011, 2012 and so forth.

As a single point of news, the Finnish Sitra agency is starting a multiple-government cycle (10+ years) program called TransportRevolution. This is really cool and could be copied to other western countries than Finland (at least keep an eye on it). The points are more, cheaper, way more sustainable. I like it. Sitra is a government agency for renewal of Finnish governmental habits and procedures. It's directly responsible to the Finnish parliament - and only them.

So absolutely no need for despair, on the behalf of PRT (or whatever).

In the longer run, ULTra and 2getthere face the dilemma of falling victim to their early design. 2nd wave of PRT will be different - I imagine it much like you're saying. Welcome to share the BM One vision, actually - you pretty much described it yourself! :)

akauppi said...

I was browsing this today and realized BRT is becoming a layman's term in some parts of the world (Bus Rapid Transit).

So how about using CRT for the next thing? :)

C can mean Compact, Convenient, Carbonless or -my favourite- Cheap. Or actually *all* of them, together.

Lars Endre Kjølstad said...

Name wars; definition power / opinion power is indeed real power. Sad to see "PRT" "hi-jacked" like this.

However, PRT was never a perfect name; it was itself once a "hi-jack" of something else, I'm sure.

How to move forward? First off; the battle for the name is not lost; said producer may have claimed that he has produced a "PRT", but will be met by PRT-supporters starting to suffix PRT with "... and NOT that thing [xx] are making, God NO!"

"PRT" will still be understood by most exactly like before, and [xx] may not "win". In which case they will LOSE a lot of cred.

That said; thinking about more specific names for specific "variations" of PRT is important; good suggestions have already been made!

The worst enemy is still that people perceive "Personal Rapid Transit" as a somewhat misplaced name for A CAR.

Lars Endre Kjølstad said...

Darn. Misspelled link to my homepage in previous post.

akauppi said...

Hi, Lars. Welcome. :)

When I speak to newcomers (ordinary citizens or investors alike) about PRT, I'm not using that word. In fact, I prefer to just show pictures.

Peoples' usual reaction is to pick up something from their childhood (Jetsons or some film - I ended up watching Total Recall just so I could understand how that person was seeing PRT).

So... what I'm saying is the concept is already familiar. But as science fiction. The concept is also very desirable. The second thing that happens is that people start envisioning it in their natural habitat. How it would help them.

This all happens automatically, by just showing a picture. No names required.

Dan said...

I just want to add that there is absolutely no end to what the 2getthere/ULTra design can be used for… 2getthere came at it from the standpoint of industrial uses, and now ULTra can join them in that business. Oddly, the enthusiasm about PRT has infused these companies with the R&D dollars that they need to better take on those non-transit markets. For example, take the ferrying of baggage from planes on the tarmac. I hate to see jobs lost, but those guys who drive the luggage to the terminal better watch their backs. As the price of automated vehicles drops, the advantage of replacing them with robocars becomes more compelling. There are millions of workers worldwide who shuffle stuff around who, so far, have not been at risk because amortizing automated equipment is more expensive than just writing their paychecks. Heck, they could even get into to moving medical supplies around hospitals or shuffling files around offices. Vehicles could be as little as a shoebox or as big as a house. Even when it comes to carrying people, the short-range applications are enough to keep these guys really, really busy for years to come.

Transit, however, is a different animal, involving much longer distances, much more contentious right-of-way issues, much less controlled conditions for construction, and a whole lot of local politics. They would do well to generally “steer” (lol) clear of these applications and stick to private campuses and the like, where the factors that affect their profitability are much, much more controlled. That being said, every proposal is different, and their products might be just right for some true transit situation somewhere.

Akauppi, I meant to ask about ULTra seeming “bumpy”. Do you remember if it was just the elevated track? (I wonder about the mesh track, which could create a uniform vibration that would go away on the pavement) or perhaps it was the expansion joints between raised sections – They say they “push the envelope” in terms of beam thickness – (43cm?) and I wonder if they are deflecting, or if they are slightly arched so they CAN deflect, as is normally done with roads, which also makes or a pronounced thump at each joint. Another possibility is highly inflated, or solid tires, (more efficient energy-wise) or just stiff suspension carrying a light load. (Was the vehicle full when you rode it?) Do any of these seem to fit with what you experienced? Did they rake the concrete to make it anti-skid? It seems odd to me, as the ULTra vehicle is so much like a golf cart or a GEM vehicle, both of which are very smooth riding. Or how about one of those gate-to-gate airport shuttle vehicles? They’re exceptionally smooth. So I wonder what is going on? Oh, and that “BRT” term. I’ve wondered about that too. Surely they must mean express buses only…
TO BE CONTINUED...

Dan said...

Andrew, combining common word elements (micro and rail) to use as an adjective to better describe a generic term (microrail PRT) really doesn’t meet the legal tests for copyright infringement, especially since it essentially endorses Megarail’s small-gauge rail design approach, and steers people to their PRT product. (no harm) Of course I would be inclined to refrain from using the term anyway, just as a professional courtesy, if I learned that they (Kirston Henderson and company) felt differently, and I have yet to inquire. I would still like to find something better anyway. It is ironic that for a while, way back when, I misremembered PRT as standing for “Personal RAIL Transit.” Equally ironic is the fact that I first got introduced to PRT by Googling (actually it was pre-Google) the words “microrail transportation” and variants, wondering if anyone else other than me had ever had such an idea.

Hi Lars, I was just getting ready to post this when I saw your comments, and I must make this short. The problem, as I see it, is that PRT is considered unproven so any fragmentation of the message is harmful. I guess I am guilty of that as well, by being in the group that prefers hanging vehicles over bottom supported designs. I agree about cars, and would add their evil cousin, lack of close proximity. It’s time to consider more master-planned cities, at least that is sorely needed here in the USA.

akauppi said...

Dan, your analysis of the possibilities of the steerable asphalt-based vehicles is refreshing. That may be so true.

As to the Heathrow experience, I really don't know why the ride was bumpy. Maybe they should speak on this instead (anyone from ULTra here?).

Lars Endre said...

Thanks for both welcoming me and the comments. (Tried to post here a while ago, but did something wrong and went on with other things).

As I am a big fan of PRT (since I did some consulting work for "Taxi2000"'s Norwegian representative some 10 years ago, and later for the guys who built the Vectus test track in Uppsala, Sweden) I am still trying to listen for what's happening with the whole "PRT thing" even though I now work with something completely different.

Would be interested in knowing "who's in here" and "why". I like to find an Open standard for PRT - an almost impossible task for so many reasons - but very helpful and idealistic!

(re: names of concepts; the norwegian-to-english translation of what we called PRT (if not PRT) would be "rail-taxi").

akauppi said...

"Who's here": Asko Kauppi. Helsinki, Finland.

"Why": Started the BM Design Oy, to bunch up Finnish companies for a light weight PRT project. Still doing that.

http://www.bmdesign.fi

Andrew F said...

I'm just a hobbyist. I have no role in transportation/urban planning.

Dan said...

Dan the Blogger Here.

Lars, I would mention that the readership of this blog is not properly represented by the comments. Actually, my list of readers includes people from most PRT companies. I know this because many of them email comments to me instead of posting them. (Or sometimes they just want their web sites plugged) For personal or professional reasons they often prefer to remain in the background. In cases where they have their own commercial offerings, what would be gained for them getting into a public debate with me about the design compromises they (or their engineers) have had to make? I really can’t blame them at all…And after all, I am, equally, a “lurker” on some sites myself. For me it is just because I have too much on my plate as it is…

Finally, I just want to say that I have been disappointed by the fact that almost none of my readers seem very interested in the detailed mechanical challenges of PRT, which is the part that I find most interesting. Most are much more interested in broader issues, which also guide design choices, but in a different way.

Although I couldn’t read a word on your site, (I confess that I only glanced at it) I did notice some Autocad references. Is that what you do? What did you do for Taxi 2000 and Vectus?

qt said...

Dan,
I understand that you were hoping to attract other inventor-types to compare notes with, and I'm sorry I don't qualify.

I do find the mechanical challenges interesting. I just don't consider myself qualified to comment on them much. I talk (when I talk at all) about the broader aspects because I might be able to contribute on those subjects.

Keep it up, please.

Andrew F said...

Same here. I find the technical discussions interesting, but I'm not an engineer, and can only make fairly rudimentary contributions to such discussions.

Dan said...

I can't thank you guys enough, technical expertise or not. You and the others who have posted comments add a dimension to the design vetting process that previous PRT designers have not had the benefit of. There are inherent pros and cons to all PRT designs, and it's great to get these issues out in the light. I really think we are sort of creating a "must read" primer for future system designers. The end users, and of course the transit officials and city planners, are certainly not mechanical engineers either. Real world reactions, particularly when articulated well, are invaluable!

qt said...

Thanks for the encouraging words. Now let me make a few more comments and tempt you to take them back.:)

Lars,
"Rail-taxi" is a step in the right direction. It doesn't roll trippingly off the tongue in English, but it's a start.

First, it's not a set of initials.
Initial-names don't really work all that well in English. Most of the ones that do are connected with huge corporations or Government, As Such. Think FBI, CIA, BATF, RDA (the FDA's Recommended Daily Allowance of certain nutrients, for the non-Americans among us), etc. Do we really want this technology to move down that same groove in the mind?

We'd be better off with a name. Even if we have to make up a word. And I don't mean a clever acronym--those typically have a short-lived following and then become a verbal sneer. But take RADAR. Or LASER. Both of those are now words in English. We don't even capitalize them anymore. And, due to the resemblance to standard English grammar, LASER has even developed into other parts of speech--"to lase" is "to generate a beam of coherent light." A "Light Amplified by Stimulated Emission of Radiation projector" has become "a device that lases."

Acronyms only really work if they become names. PRT will never qualify.

Second, describes the idea better.
I've never really been comfortable with the idea of "Personal Rapid Transit." Most people, I suspect, see that as a contradiction in terms. In the U. S., anyway.

To most of my acquaintances, the word "transit" conjures up the vision of standing on a platform or in a line, surrounded by people you don't know and don't particulaly want to know, waiting for the "privilege" of crowding into a vehicle full of people you don't know and don't particularly want to know--and knowing you'll be trapped there for X minutes/hours.

Nobody really wants to do that. Why would they? There's a reason why, as soon as practical and affordable cars became commonly available, America's (pretty good, actually) transit systems began to die unmourned.

PRT's biggest selling point, when you can get it across, is that you don't have to do any of that. The perfect PRT system would be like the "magic elevator" I imagined in an earlier post. Since we can't put a stop in front of every house, though, we might want to go for a slightly less ambitious vision--walking up to the corner and flagging a cab.

Imagine if you could take a cab to Wherever Avenue for the same price as catching a bus. I think you could sell that.

So. RailTaxi? RailCab? LimoRail? Maybe pull a word out of the past, like "hansom" or "phaeton"? Or an acromym that rolls off the tongue and doesn't sound like you're trying to be clever?

Something to think about, maybe...

qt said...

Thanks for the encouraging words. Now let me make a few more comments and tempt you to take them back.:)

Lars,
"Rail-taxi" is a step in the right direction. It doesn't roll trippingly off the tongue in English, but it's a start.

First, it's not a set of initials.
Initial-names don't really work all that well in English. Most of the ones that do are connected with huge corporations or Government, As Such. Think FBI, CIA, BATF, RDA (the FDA's Recommended Daily Allowance of certain nutrients, for the non-Americans among us), etc. Do we really want this technology to move down that same groove in the mind?

We'd be better off with a name. Even if we have to make up a word. And I don't mean a clever acronym--those typically have a short-lived following and then become a verbal sneer. But take RADAR. Or LASER. Both of those are now words in English. We don't even capitalize them anymore. And, due to the resemblance to standard English grammar, LASER has even developed into other parts of speech--"to lase" is "to generate a beam of coherent light." A "Light Amplified by Stimulated Emission of Radiation projector" has become "a device that lases."

Acronyms only really work if they become names. PRT will never qualify.

qt said...

Second, describes the idea better.
I've never really been comfortable with the idea of "Personal Rapid Transit." Most people, I suspect, see that as a contradiction in terms. In the U. S., anyway.

To most of my acquaintances, the word "transit" conjures up the vision of standing on a platform or in a line, surrounded by people you don't know and don't particulaly want to know, waiting for the "privilege" of crowding into a vehicle full of people you don't know and don't particularly want to know--and knowing you'll be trapped there for X minutes/hours.

Nobody really wants to do that. Why would they? There's a reason why, as soon as practical and affordable cars became commonly available, America's (pretty good, actually) transit systems began to die unmourned.

PRT's biggest selling point, when you can get it across, is that you don't have to do any of that. The perfect PRT system would be like the "magic elevator" I imagined in an earlier post. Since we can't put a stop in front of every house, though, we might want to go for a slightly less ambitious vision--walking up to the corner and flagging a cab.

Imagine if you could take a cab to Wherever Avenue for the same price as catching a bus. I think you could sell that.

So. RailTaxi? RailCab? LimoRail? Maybe pull a word out of the past, like "hansom" or "phaeton"? Or an acromym that rolls off the tongue and doesn't sound like you're trying to be clever?

Something to think about, maybe...

akauppi said...

qt's comments are twice and mine (after those) got deleted. What's going on..?

Dan said...

Well, that one didn't. Try again. I, myself have been tricked into reposting a long comment. It says that the URI is too long but then posts anyway. I don't know about it not working for you. I'm holding my tongue for now because my upcoming post goes back to some of this...

Dan said...

Dan The Blogger is very disappointed with Google!

Apparently there has been a glitch at Google. You are not the only one who couldn't post, akauppi. Lars posted twice more and his comments never showed up. I know this because duplicates of all comments show up in my email. It took me a while to notice that what was there and what showed up on the blog didn't match. Bear with us Lars, I at least, got your comments. akauppi, yours didn't even show up in my inbox. Lars, I will repost those messages later. Right now I'm tied up.

Dan said...

OK here it is...I am only posting the second one because it seems that there is some repetition from the first, leading me to believe it was a second attempt... This was from Lars, 1/7/11 -

(For Taxi2000 (Norwegian rep.) I assembled and rendered an animation. They provided the wireframe model of their car. For Vectus, I did nothing directly, but some business consulting together for the company that project managed test track construction.)

Dan; general design and mechanical solutions are not far apart - so I will make another comment to this article (also goes to the Google Shwoob): I have always believed PRT to be public transportation - and an alternative to car. I think the real "PRT" should be on rails or wire(for little resistance and cheaper "roads"), and tracks in order to provide power from grid (preferably not pod-borne engines). I've seen "the new thing" about PRT to be the small sized pods, and the key solution to be the offline station.

I'll be happy to talk technically on relevant articles.

I have not regarded road-rolling vehicles PRT's, but see why people can choose to do that! I DO, however, accept road-rollers, if they can find a way to provide electrical power to the cars directly from the road (i.e. renewed and modernized "trolley-buses", but as I said; I didn't think of this as "PRT" (before :-)).

Bruce said...

Railtaxi works, but tracktaxi is better, because it's alliterative.