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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Automated Cars/Trains - Spreading the Idea

       John Redwood has blogged in favour of automated cars:

We are close to the point where technology can create automatic chauffeurs for the many. If you go from the Business car park at Terminal 5 to the airport, you go in your own automatically controlled pod vehicle. That requires tracks. Soon the technology with sat navs and satellite controls will allow similar treatment for a vehicle using the normal highway.

It is difficult to see how last century train technology can compete with this likely development.

    I put up a reply extending the debate to cover space and X-Prizes:
"It is indeed the sort of technological progress that could get us out of recession if only our Luddite political class would allow it.

However John is, to the best of my knowledge, the only MP to have even mentioned this transport revolution just as, a few years ago, he was the only MP to support space development.
(Space is now getting a bit more coverage but all that is happening is that with “the worst space agency in the world” it is being used to shovel money at the ESA bureaucrats who have wasted 99.9% of previous money.)

Lifelogic you are wrong about this being “a bit away”. Automated cars are already road legal in Nevada and silicon valley and the Cambridge group say that in the near future it only add just over £100 to the building cost of new cars. Britain, of course, is not yet even at the stage of allowing it if there is a man with a red flag walking ahead – something agreed to have assisted in Britain’s late Victorian technological decline.

As someone who has here & elsewhere promoted UKIP’s policy of putting our space money into an X-Prize Foundation may I point out that this breakthrough was brought about by DARPA offering $3 million in prizes. They subsequently said that if it had been funded conventionally they would have had to spend $100 mill & might well have got nothing. I have taken this as proof that X-Prizes are at least 33 times more effective than conventional funding. If so then even without increasing our space budget of £330m it would match NASA’s $18 bn in effectiveness.

If our political class (John and UKIP excepted) were not scientifically illiterate Luddites whose attitude to technology has for the last 50 years been “Doh whassat?”

And as John points out this makes conventional rail obsolete, or rather even more obsolete. However if it is practical to run cars automatically it is clearly easy to do so with trains."

    What I didn't mention is that a few days earlier he had written about trains and I put up a comment (July 18th 10.16) promoting automated trains and in particular my previous proposal for a prize like the DARPA automated driving prize, which was about to revolutionise road transport, to do the same, very quickly indeed, to automate the whole train system. Making trains competitive has been one of both John and my hobbyhorses for years and I once acknowledged that a point he made - that the weight of trains, far greater than buses of similar capacity is a sign of how outdated they are and a reason they are so inefficient.

    In that case John edited out my link to the proposal, which is his right when I am using his blog to get readers here, though it did open it to commenters questioning stuff that would have been obvious in the unedited post.

    I did not mention on his blog that his post clearly came from mine - that would be discourteous - but I am pleased when an idea of mine percolates up somewhere closer to the corridors of power (it happens rarely enough and John is only close to the corridors rather than in them because of Cameron's obvious fear of competence and principles). However I feel that it is proper to mention it here where it will be seen by fewer.

   And it is clear that there is no doubt that my proposal for using a DARPA style prize to cheaply (tens of thousands not tens of billions) and quickly automate the entire rail system (about a year not  decades) is entirely workable and is known to the government even if, as normal, they do nothing.

   Well nothing but continue to spend £45 billion on HS2 which is even more obsolete than previously thought.

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As you have written in the past, the cost of tunneling in the UK bears little relationship to what it now costs in several parts of Europe, and for no legitimate technical or wage rate reasons. This is more than a bit tragic, because stripped of these mysterious added costs tunneling could well be cost competitive with new build road or rail and offers transport systems that could be much more energy efficient, quiet, environmentally benign and not vulnerable to bad weather. Recently some Japanese engineers revamped the idea of the roller coaster to provide transport for short to medium ranges that was both fast and low energy. If you can reduce friction substantially, or totally,, gravity railways work very well, and are ideally suited to tunnels going down to the required depth and back up again at the destination and using very little energy to do so. Had the politicians both in government and the unions not been so bull headed, the large number of skilled miners made redundant with not many immediate prospects could have been usefully employed creating a largely underground truly modern transport network that could have met all the criteria we now want.
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