Friday, October 20, 2006

Rail Riding Robots

A California inventor is proposing that we send cargo robots out onto the unused rails around the world.

The railroad rails, he says, sit idle most of the time which is a waste of expensive capital. His plan is to make lightweight cargo robots to carry products around the country during the time in between when real trains use the tracks.

What if another train comes while the robot is going? We should build a second set of tracks, he says, that's still cheaper than building more highways.

While it seems cool to think of thousands of unmanned trucks zipping around the country, automatically coordinating with each other to avoid collisions - dropping the price of shipping to pennies - it may be more complicated than it appears. Today railroads seem to have a problems keeping manned trains on the tracks.

However, it may be an idea whose time has come. There has been alot of new technology invented since the idea of the 'train' has been in use. The combination of information technology, fast computers, sensors, new engine designs may be enough to start a new era in transport. Also, most of the train wrecks these days seem to be due to 'human error'. Robots may be able to do a better job.

Maybe it is time we re-evaluated the use of railroad tracks.

Home of the Rail Robot


Blogger JakeH said...

It has long since been my theory that this is the back-story to Thomas the Tank-Engine. I believe it takes place in the future where all forms of large machinery are autonomous. In order to help the public be more comfortable with them, their designers gave them friendly, human-like AI along with anthropomorphic faces.

Am i reading WAY to far into a simple children program? I suppose that's possible...

1:32 PM, October 21, 2006  
Anonymous Len said...

I like that, Jakeh!

However, I suspect that the brain-power being expended on the "new" idea - moving the industry from "unit trains" back to "mixed freight" - would be far better spent on improving scheduling algorithms and freight loading/unloading processes (both of which are going to be needed to ship efficiently in this manner anyways), and not trying to invent new hardware.

12:47 PM, October 24, 2006  

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