Friday, September 16, 2016

PRT is Dead. Long live PRT!

With the various advances that have come to transportation lately, PRT has lost its monopoly on many of the virtues that once made it unique. It is, perhaps, natural to wonder if PRT’s time has come and gone. Once upon a time only PRT could manage its traffic because the vehicles were centrally controlled. Now, with traffic apps, roadside electric billboard alerts, etc., drivers by the thousands can increasingly be alerted of upcoming congestion and change their routes accordingly. In the very near future cars will be “talking” to signs, traffic lights, the cloud and to each other. In the past the whole idea of a driverless vehicle was unthinkable without a dedicated track or guideway, simply for safety reasons. That is clearly changing. Once, PRT alone made electric vehicles practical, because an electrified rail eliminated the need for the heavy lead-acid batteries that made electric cars slow and short-range. Another advantage gone. Does all of this mean PRT is dead? Can PRT’s essential advantages can be had in different ways? Let’s dig a little deeper.

One must first realize that progress has not been confined to cars alone. PRT’s centralized control scheme was a liability as well as an asset – A single glitch could strand everybody. Autonomous driving benefits PRT right along with automobiles. This is especially important in that it facilitates variable speeds which, in turn, enable tighter turns and faster straightaways, making PRT much more versatile. Those sweeping, graceful turns once depicted in PRT promo material were far from an asset – who would give up their valuable corner property without a fight? Advances in batteries benefit PRT as well. Now there are many “third rail” options including none at all, being a discontinuous, a charge-on-the-go system, supplementing solar collectors, etc. Wireless connectivity, combined with more “intelligent” PRT control makes for a very robust and fault-tolerant system. In other words, any PRT system that is devised today can be far superior to past designs by almost every metric.

Although many designs still represent a basically workable, even elegant transit alternative, enough has changed in the technological landscape to justify a re-think of many key aspects of the whole proposition. It’s not just self-driving technology and batteries. It’s smart phones, the cloud, how things are prototyped and manufactured. The world itself has changed, including people’s expectations and behavior. About the only thing that hasn’t changed is the need. The fundamental problem with “surface” transportation is that paths inherently cross, leaving no alternative but for someone to stop and wait, whether you’re a pedestrian, train, on bicycle or on horseback. The large size and weight of commercial vehicles on our current roadways curtails extensive use of curative overpasses and even when elevation is absolutely necessary, the high inertia of these vehicles is such that massive cloverleaf designs must be created or they would simply skid off the road at reasonable speeds. This, with the shrinking amount of available ground-level space, ensures troublesome bottlenecks. Self-driving cars, alone, can never solve this dilemma. Private passenger vehicles do not require anything close to such a heavy infrastructure, yet they comprise the lion’s share of vehicular traffic. There is, therefore, great advantage to be gained by giving such smaller vehicles a modern, non-stop infrastructure all their own, which can also eliminate the need for plowing, policing, and save lives. So if a smaller gauge, elevated (and presumably automated) system for moving people is still needed what, specifically, has changed?

PRT has always been a mix of utopian dream and practicality. You walk a short distance to a station, there are private vehicles waiting, and you get whisked away, non-stop, to your destination. But wait: A “short distance?” How short? “Private vehicles waiting?” Every time? Isn’t that kind of wasteful, having that much precious investment sitting idle? What about vehicle capacity? Should all vehicles that will usually carry one be built for four, “just in case?” And what about “non-stop?” If a vehicle can pick up a passenger or two without adding substantially to the travel time, isn’t it kind of inefficient not to? Or what about “To your destination?” How close are we really talking about? Above all, is this practical as a business?

Unfortunately, the whole notion of PRT becomes very iffy when many important stations have yet to be added, because it is that much less likely that there will be potential passengers, at any given time, within walking distance of a given station. Trying to start a PRT system without a multitude of destinations is like opening a grocery store that only stocks pet food, diapers and milk and expecting it to grow from there. No selection, no customers. I suspect we all agree, however, that PRT would prosper fabulously were it extensively built-out to the point of having stations on every corner. That would be a “Walmart” of destination choices! But how do we realistically get there in stages? This has always been the fly in the ointment and is where the latest technological trends may just come to the rescue, even if the remedies aren’t exactly what a PRT purist would like. Let’s start with the first part of the supposition above, walking that “short distance” to the station.

It is no secret that Uber is working on self-driving cars. Yet as the recent fatal crash of a Tesla on autopilot points out, there will be a lot of bumps along the way, especially in terms of liability and ethics when it comes to driverless cars going lethal speeds.  For robotaxis, it is more likely that completely driverless vehicles will cut their teeth on the slower, short-haul market for quite some time before attempting to navigate amongst drivers who themselves are often driving unsafely, sometimes on foggy, icy or flooded streets. A preferable start for an Uber would be, therefore, somewhere that would leverage the convenience of a ride hailing app with a greater value than a short, slower ride would ordinarily suggest. Such situations already exist in cities with long established and heavily used transit systems, where some neighborhoods are just out of comfortable walking distance to the nearest station. Assigning a few robotaxis to each station would extend a transit system’s reach. Better yet, however, would be to service a PRT station, because that would mean that an entire trip could be arranged in a single step. In other words, a robotaxi/PRT/robotaxi trip could be arranged by phone, giving the full door-to-door service of a traditional taxi but with the non-stop, flyover capability of PRT, hopefully for the lion’s share of the trip. This would require far fewer PRT stations than the traditional grid approach, with the PRT simply acting as a wormhole from one part of the city to another. Such a partnership is as good for Uber as it is for PRT.

Then there is the matter of sharing the ride via Group Rapid Transit, or GRT.  Automated self-driving technologies enable a mix of vehicles. There can be 2 seaters, 4 or 6-10 seaters or cargo vehicles all sharing the same track. A cloud-based phone app could do more than simply synchronize the ground transportation for a PRT passenger. It could also pair passengers with vehicles “on the fly” to create the most efficient shared routing. Since nascent networks will necessarily have only a few major destinations to start, it is vital to implement a business model that can survive this stage. Such stripped-down networks tend to lend themselves more to GRT than PRT, since it makes little sense to send large numbers of people to the same destination in separate vehicles. Readers of this blog will note that the concept of a multiple-tier, yet compatible track system (Baby, Mama and Papa bear track) has been proposed herein, and GRT track is of the “Papa Bear” variety, which supports high speeds and heavier weights, but not steep slopes or tight turns that would be best for confined, densely developed areas. Although not as flexible as a smaller track, it is assumed that many important destinations are accessible by major highways anyway, and such track would generally follow these or other uncontested routes. In a more mature system these would form an arterial backbone for smaller, yet compatible PRT track and station designs that are sized to more comprehensively serve neighborhoods where space and flexibility is at a premium.

This is where cloud-based “intelligent” routing and scheduling really makes a difference. Consider the compromise reflected in all forms of shared, scheduled transit: Running infrequently makes for full vehicles but discourages use of the system while running frequently promotes system use but it may operate at a loss because the vehicles are nearly empty. With app/cloud-based systems, however, the need can be monitored in real time and responded to accordingly. This strongly implies an approach that incorporates multiple vehicle sizes, something that would make sense anyway, from airplanes to buses, if only such vehicles could be staged “at the ready,” and there was a means to accurately predict occupancy. A paradigm of distributed, algorithmically anticipated, haled (rather than scheduled) vehicles makes this possible for the first time, essentially turning everything we thought we knew about mass transit on its head.

In a fully automated, cloud-based deployment scheme, artificial intelligence would be used in real time to choose both vehicle type and destination to best eliminate waiting and minimize travel time while maximizing throughput. Unlike a city bus, which often has a sign that shows route/destination information, A GRT vehicle’s sign (and destination) might change as it pulls into a station based on the more democratic principle of majority rule.  Perhaps such a system could even arrange a passenger transfer to another vehicle, maybe even calling that passenger by name and giving instructions. For that matter the vehicle would also “know” if a passenger is making a mistake and getting off at the wrong station. The system could even respond to passenger preferences and histories, such as not pairing an unaccompanied woman or minor alone with a stranger, or only pairing students of a local college with other students. Hmm… This might give new meaning to the term “speed dating”! Seriously though, bad experiences can be reported within a passenger app, and with cameras becoming ever cheaper and clearer, this all bodes well for safety and passenger satisfaction even without the watchful eye of a driver.  

All of the above stands in stark contrast to the “everything or nothing” proposition of traditional PRT, and we all know which of those two cases has come true to date. Is PRT “dead?” Perhaps, in a way. If this is so than it is death by a thousand cuts… a business model that is not quite compelling because dozens of very minor (though often solvable) factors add up to a no-go, especially in the early stages when there are too few stations to create the “network effect.”  Still, besides creating a dizzying array of choices, our current technological prowess has made the path towards those original goals more likely and achievable, not less. At present it seems that GRT (rather than PRT) is probably the way to start because the drawbacks of group travel have been largely eliminated and GRT offers a better business model for the fewer stations that are an essential stage in building out a network. GRT, like PRT, with a robotaxi at each end, offers true door-to-door service, ideally with near zero wait time. It is also notable that even with a GRT system there would be naturally be a need for smaller vehicles. Late at night, for example, it would make little sense to use vehicles that are sized for rush hour. This bodes well for the prospect of arterial track sections that are eventually populated by both PRT and GRT vehicles. 

Any ground-based leg of the trip, of course, will still experience traffic delays. That, for PRT (and elevated transport in general) is a good thing, as it will encourage expanding the aerial network into more and more areas, and encourage players like Uber, Google, or even Ford to enter the elevated transit business. The contrast between crawling along on the ground and flying over the city will be like night and day, and it is hard to imagine that they will not see the light. It is also noteworthy that future robotaxi logs would give solid statistical evidence as to where the elevated track should expand to next, by predicting how such a “spur” would perform monetarily, removing the financial risk of such an expansion.

PRT does seem dead or dying as a singular, all-inclusive product/service, in that the old model is  analogous to treating cars and roads as a single thing, when they are many: There are many types of roads and many types of vehicles that drive on those roads and that’s a Darwinian strength. The specific vehicle/track/operational methodologies of many past PRT designs were often tightly integrated to compensate for technological limitations of the day and so now require total revision in the face of the game changing advent of autonomous vehicular control. In this new world the track itself is the most important part to get right, because it is, ultimately, the limiting factor. Track that is too expensive, uses too much real estate, requires stations that are too expensive, is noisy, is affected by weather, cannot easily be modified for various loads or spans, cannot support high speeds, cannot be quickly and inexpensively  constructed or modified, etc., won’t fulfill its promise, or the promise of anything running on it. Above all it needs to be flexible, and that means being designed for much more than PRT. It seems increasingly likely that vehicles from multiple venders may be the business model that is most likely to flourish in the ecosystem of grade separated, automated transport, so we have to keep the track simple.

The roll of the “control system” has clearly changed. There has always been some degree of autonomy in PRT, say to slam on the brakes to avert a collision, for example. With newfound autonomous capabilities however, centralized “control” becomes, more and more, merely a role of scheduling and traffic optimization. Under such a scenario, the central computer basically makes suggestions in real-time that are normally followed, so it is essentially the same as central control. The difference is that the vehicles are quite capable of working independently, just at a more cautious pace. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it is an important distinction from a business perspective, because it redefines what role a PRT company would have in continuing operations by reducing an important role to a discreet, probably largely cloud based, software layer.
  
What if, we might dream, a city were to say to a Google, Tesla, Amazon or an Uber, “If we provide this track and these stations will you design and build robotic vehicles for it? Or perhaps provide the central traffic optimization (control) layer? While it might seem, at first glance, that such companies would have little to gain, it is actually a pretty interesting sandbox, as described in the previous post, and the cost of prototyping and mass producing the actual machinery is falling every day. There has always been a natural dichotomy in PRT between that which is naturally a city’s business and what a PRT company can be expected to produce and perform. Autonomous vehicles enable a “dumb” track that requires less oversight, is less likely to become obsolete, is less tied to a specific vehicle manufacturer, and is therefore generally less burdensome and risky to a city. This, in turn, relieves vehicle manufacturers from a business they want no part of, that being planners and builders of urban infrastructure. The PRT provider really becomes more of a go-between, a builder of partnerships. Everybody’s happy!


The PRT of old seems pretty much dead... if it was ever really alive to start with. Loosely defined, however, where we are simply referring to smaller, haled robotic vehicles operating on a network of lightweight, elevated tracks... well that, my friends, is alive and well. Long live PRT!

16 comments:

Jim said...

Why couldn't a GRT vehicle go down a steep or vertical slope? Is it because it would have two bogies and the cab would not be able to rotate sideways 90 degrees and hang downwards like the single bogie vehicles in your previous sketches?

If the track split in two and the rear bogie took a separate parallel track would the cab then not be able to travel sideways at 90 degrees between the two parallel tracks? And if those tracks sloped to vertical would the cab not then be able to hang downwards?

I imagine that this would aid the design of busy central stations as you could have GRT vehicles rising up vertically.

You'd use your NFC smartphone to tag into the station and let it know your destination, and a message would appear on your phone telling you to go to bay X or queue Y where the GRT vehicles to that station are currently departing from.

Also how much would a bare bones demo system cost? And is there anyone in the north east of England or Wales who could set up a regional charity to get this implemented?

Dan said...

Dan the Blogger answers from the local library...
Hi Jim, thanks for posting. I have (once again) been "off the grid" trying to make use of every last moment of summer sunshine up on my land. If it doesn't rain, I just loose track of time!

Yes, indeed, the GRT vehicles could work as you suggest. I don't think I would start out that way, however. They also could be lowered via a scissor mechanism or by cable, for that matter.
My worry is that GRT and PRT are already too much for many people to absorb. People feel safer with evolutionary change, by and large.

The matter of the cost for a bare-bones system is very hard to answer. For example, where would you put it? Would you take it on the road? What, exactly would it demo? Would it have a complete software package? Who would own it? Is there a business model that is compelling without taxpayer money?

I think the best model is some sort of collaboration wherein everybody gets something out of it, win or lose. In other words, all money spent was earmarked for something similar anyway, although I am still sketchy on the details!

Jim (James) said...

Yeah a scissor mechanism or cable could work. But if you had the same bogies on the 2 seater pods, just two bogies on the 10 seater pods, that might reduce costs. Also looking at some of your dual mode drawings were the pod detaches from the bogie - why not use the bogies to move mainly 10 seater GRT pods during rush hour, then attach a 2 seater pod for times outside rush hour to allow for more individual trips.

If Elon Musk and Better place can build a robotic battery swapping system for electric cars, surely robotic pod swapping is doable.

Jim (James) said...

Demo system - I got asked by a charity trustee to suggest some 'science' causes to donate to (only to go into a pool of considered charities, so it is a long shot). There are three other trustees who make the decision on where to give funds too.

Also the charity has to be doing work in the north east of England or Wales.

Plus I think they are inclined to donate to things with a human impact element (they were musing about giving to a homeless charity).

Maybe if we set up a charity to sponsor post grad engineering students to do a project to build a small demo system between two campuses? That might tickle their fancy?

Dan said...

Dan the blogger responds -
Jim, those are good and doable ideas. I hesitate to pursue such details because then you define a system by them, and that becomes yet another detail which must be learned by someone new to the system. Two many bells and whistles can obscure what lies beneath! What I mostly want to do is to define a track that enables those or other possibilities, or rather forecloses fewer possibilities than other designs. If that track is then adopted, what rides on it can evolve over time. I do find the idea of a double bogie vehicle having its two bogies take different paths interesting and provocative. I have a feeling that early GRT stations probably will not have the space constraints to require such a system, however, so the track configuration to allow this should probably double as a means to have a pair of PRT vehicles to each have there own stall.

As far as a charity, that is a tall order. There are a world of ambitious or even unscrupulous people out there who are looking for a way to be in the middle of lots of tax free money. (just look at the US presidential candidates!) For this reason charities and other non-profits are not something you can just throw together on a whim. They need to file lots of legal docs, have officers, report their salaries, etc. Every country has different rules, and I know absolutely nothing about how England treats the matter. I suspect, however, that what is needed is an existent, reputable organization, such as a university, that has an established program or wants to establish one. They (not us) must be the "charity," and that entity must make the decisions regarding any budgeting. No reputable charity will pass money to another charity that has no track record, or at least they shouldn't.

Jim (James) said...

I guess you are right - the charity set up as a 'pitch' to this foundation is a lot of work for a long shot.

Setting the thing up would be a proper project. Not just setting up the charity but communicating with the other stateholders, who you would struggle to get responses from as you wouldn't yet have 'money on the table'.

And the fact that it is new... I guess you'd have to run it for a few years first to overcome that chicken and egg problem.

And you'd probably need someone in the NE of England to meet face to face with people when the time comes.

I am definitely not the person to drive this at the moment as I have chronic sinusitis.

Daniel Cismas said...

As Einstein suggested, in order to solve a problem we have to leave the framework within which we created the problem, we have to study our new system, its conditions, and based on our examinations we have to create a totally new system.

Any PRT supporter is asking the following question over and over: what PRT is missing from getting its acceptance and mass deployment? Truth is, this is a million dollar question.

However, there is a way to figure this out. The answer is not coming from a think tank who’s predicting the future, is coming - guess what - from the future itself 

Bear with me. Let’s imagine we are living in the future, more precisely: year 2116: we wake up in a single detached house… (yes, in 2116 the Earth would still be large enough for single detached homes)
…We look through the window and we see that we are located on a palm-like town like the Dubai’s Palm Islands. We have 2 kids… (just hypothetically): the smallest is a middle school student: we put him on a PRT car which gets programmed wirelessly and automatically through his iPhone77 to drive him to the school located at the “trunk” of the “palm”. His big brother just started university and he will take the PRT to the base of the palm to get the subway to a nearby palm-like town and then he will continue his ride through another PRT network to his university of choice. Don’t worry: it’s a 30 minute ride and he’s not driving all this time but watching courses.

As soon as we get rid of the kids we take a closer look at the PRT (no, don’t ask where is the wife, she has already embarked on the PRT just before the kids got their breakfast). Like spies from a movie, we take impetuously pictures of the PRT with our iPhone so we can sell the ideas to the guys from the past: the PRT has its network embedded underneath the road (yes, in 2116 there will still be roads but they will be just for emergency vehicles or family vehicles, not for weekday personal transportation).

Because the palm architecture with waterbeds, the roads are elevated and the PRT tracks are sideways, underneath the road/sidewalks. The access to the PRT is from every house, from the basement of the house, so nobody will do shovelling in the winter. Walking or jogging through the PRT path is a four-season activity with nice views of the water and beach. These windows of the PRT tunnels are in-between the houses to make sure nobody gets phobia if inside the PRT path would be too dark.

The PRT vehicle is a 1.5-occupancy vehicle running on elevated tracks. In the residential area is buried under the sidewalks but in the “downtown” is either buried or elevated on posts. The vehicle itself is a 2000 mpg electric vehicle running on V2G technology which can be also driven manually in case of emergency. The motor and switching technology is based on openprtspecs… but let’s stop here because we have already found the answer we were looking for:
…what PRT is missing is (moment of suspense like at the best talent contest shows): THE INFRASTRUCTURE, a PRT network built on a totally NEW city INFRASTRUCTURE.

How can this be possible to build a new infrastructure? Yes, it is possible. Who is living today in a 100-year house? Not so many. Maybe 10%. Who will live in 2116 in a 100-year house? Not so many. The new infrastructure would be possible to build it if we start building it now. We have to start a totally new system, an out-of-box system. Who’ll have the honour and courage to start it?

Hello? Hello? Is anybody out there?

John Cleeland said...

Since I first read this latest blog post, I have read Infrastructure Australia's audit of all of Australia's infrastructure, and their subsequent plan (500+ pages).
They calculated that the Direct Economic Contribution (DEC) from transport was huge, calculated from what we pay less what it costs, and urban transport was most significant. Bus, tram and train users paid only 22% of the cost for providing the service. They talk about market failure, ask that the subsidy be removed; and ask that there is open competition for service provision, implying open systems.
I took one of their projects, Melbourne city to airport train network extension, costing $5B with fares covering only half the interest cost, and I compared it to a PRT route, city to airport, costing $406M and making a profit. This route has no need to provide last mile service at either end.
We have a Prime Minister promoting innovation.
It will be interesting to see the response.
Kindest regards

Anonymous said...

Dan the blogger is currently off the grid...
Sorry folks, not only am I away from the internet, but I seem to be unable to even log on to my blog at the local library. Frankly, I have a heap of stuff to do up here in the woods anyway, before the snows make further work impossible. I will be back in civilization by the second week of December.

Dan said...

Dan the Blogger is back for the winter! Daniel, I am a big fan of master-planned cities, and really wish someone would "step up to the plate." With rents the way they are in Silicon Valley, it seems like an Apple or Google could just pick some gorgeous location where everybody would want to live, if they could, and just start from scratch. I've seen plans for floating pyramids and other off-shore schemes that seem like they could work, especially if you are collecting rent from 100,000 software engineers! I would add, though, that my systems are pretty much designed for the present, both in the practical and budget conscious design of the hardware, and in being highly optimized for cities as they currently are.

John, thanks for your comment and I will be getting back to you on that email shortly...
I had cut a giant hole in a perfectly good cabin with winter setting in while buying a backhoe/loader or I would have been a bit more attentive...

I am curious as to your numbers. How many passengers? Have you worked out the vehicle density/throughput figures? Please share!

James Joyce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Joyce said...

Is there anything that can be done to move this forward other than just waiting for the future to turn up one day?

I'm living in a city in Australia (Brisbane) that is basically a sprawling auto dystopia. Probably on a par with Houston. We do have some commuter rail, but the nearest station is about 500m walk from my house with no parking, and we have 30 to 35 degree Celsius heat here for most of summer. Also the city is already to spread out to get anywhere in reasonable enough time in trains with stations within walking distance of most destinations.

Would it be possible to build a cut down model, but still fully featured? I know Dan said that the bogie is basically as complicated as a CNC machine, not that I know how complex one of those is.

I did note that the silly (when you dig into it) Chinese Straddle Bus got lots of media attention with a 'model' back in May 2016. It was a series of animated GIFs that for some reason were compelling to look at which I have lined to below:

https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-alupn-QadYc/V0R8w1qczNI/AAAAAAABJP4/ci2JmpKRat8XbaXqy-tCYEjDMuKe9HlFgCLcB/s640/straddlebus.gif

They also produced a CGI animation that was somehow boring to look at. Maybe we are getting so used to seeing CGI mock ups that they are now boring for some reason?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1gTzc7-IbQ

Dan said...

Dan The Blogger Responds:
Hi James, I'm finally back in civilization. I wish I had the time to push things forward myself. I must say, though, that I really think PRT is as close as it has been since back in the days when Raytheon, Messerschmidt, Boeing and other biggies were all toying with the idea.

When you say "cut-down" I assume you mean scaled-down, if you are also saying "full-featured." Unfortunately that is, perhaps, harder because motors and tires and such do not come in miniature versions, and doing a whole separate engineering job is essentially doing the hardest part twice.

While away from the internet, I did manage to do some design work in the evenings. I will be posting a basically buildable bogie design shortly, which is detailed enough to take bids on constructing. Maybe somebody in academia can use such a project or something. It needs to be matched with drivers and controllers though.

One thing I can do is to do the same for Baby Bear, which is smaller and less capable and therefore should come out much cheaper. It will take me a lot of time though. I had a working model in the works for a while, but I was unable to get my motor drivers to work, even after several weeks to trying., so that project is on hold. Have patience!

Mia Gomez said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James Joyce said...

Maybe (if a kickstarter is ever attempted) someone could build a small Scalextric sized tabletop model. Not with fully functioning bogies. Just with a magnet or even a piece of string in the track to pull a pod around.

Looking at another picture of the chinese straddle bus table top model, you can see the metal tracks for the cars which are clearly slotcars, I think they must have just digitally edited out the metal tracks in the earlier animated gif.

https://www.wired.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/GettyImages-535149466.jpg

On the other hand, maybe that money would just be better spent towards Dan or someone trying to build a baby bear sized bogie?

I also see that Elon Musk has realized that electric cars won't solve the congestion problem, but is proposing expensive tunnels as a solution. If only he (or the puclic) knew and cared about a PRT on cheap elevated rails.

Dan said...

Hi James - DTB responds! (and all that)...
That mock-up is ridiculously bad. Where is Godzilla when you need him?

I had the first of four wheels working on a 1/8 scale model that would be progammable, able to climb straight up, reverse, etc. but it was devilishly hard to troubleshoot electronic problems. I took my circuitry from the breadboard to a "printed" circuit board and it just never worked, and after spending endless hours I sort of lost interest. Also the hardware (resin coated electromagnetic coils) were insanely finicky. I would kill two to make one. I just don't have time for that although it sure would have been nice.

I think the videos that Ollie has for his Metrino (previously MISTER) do a good job of making the case, as do the Bubbles and Beams animations. Actually his is the only other existing system that could qualify as SMART in that it can inherently work in 3D if he were to so adapt it. The open source program "Blender" makes 3D simulations that are Hollywood grade but learning it is a real bear. I tried to import my Sketchup model to give it a shiny skin and reflective windows with little success - (I could only do simple shapes) and that was just for still-shots. Making it animate takes it to another level.

I do think someone should point Elon Musk in our direction. A little serpentine beam in the sky makes so much more sense than boring through the ground. That is like the man-sized copper telephone cable they first crossed the Atlantic with as opposed to a skinny,flexible fiber-optic one. It is a "big-pipe" slow-flow solution from the past.

I think you will like my next post, due shortly, as I have pretty much laid down the procedure to construct a Mama Bear, although my last line basically states that "baby bear" is still just a gleam in my eye. I am currently working on it though.