Transportation

Robotic ants provide path to real ant brains

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 28, 2013   View Article

Robots built to mimic ants suggest that real ants waste little, if any, mental energy deciding which way to go when they reach an uneven fork in the road, according to a new study. Instead, the ants just take the easiest route as dictated by geometry.

“The shape of their network relieves some of the cognitive load for the ants; they don’t need to think about it,” Simon Garnier, a biologist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, told NBC News. “The shape of their networks has constrained their movement in a way that is more efficient for them.”

The findings have implications for understanding ant biology as well as how humans design transportation networks for the flow of people, information and goods.

Skip the subway, take a ski lift to work instead

Publication: NBC News   Date: January 7, 2013   View Article

The future of mass transit will come with sweeping views, private cars, and schedule-free travel if a proposed gondola-based system takes off from sketchpads at a design firm, which stands a shot at occurring in fast-growing Texas.

Gondolas are enclosed cabins that dangle from moving wires. They are commonly used to transport skiers and snowboarders up mountains and tourists around amusement parks. Michael McDaniel and his colleagues at Frog, an international design firm, believe the ski lifts can improve transit in big cities.

Battery aging reversed to keep electric train chugging along

Publication: NBC News   Date: January 4, 2013   View Article

Researchers have written an algorithm that reverses aging in rechargeable lead-acid batteries, a breakthrough that will let them keep their all-electric train chugging along longer.

“To be able to rejuvenate anything is pretty remarkable,” Christopher Rahn, a mechanical engineer at Pennsylvania State University, told NBC News. “I mean, how many times in life do you actually reverse aging?”

Giant inflatable plug could protect subways from floodwaters

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 5, 2012   View Article

A giant inflatable plug that can be filled with 35,000 gallons of water at a moment’s notice could have prevented some of the flooding that crippled New York City’s transit in the wake of Sandy, according to an expert working on the technology.

This isn’t a case of Monday-morning quarterbacking. The technology is still in the lab. But the impact of this month’s superstorm on transit and the possibility that it’s a harbinger of things to come has focused attention on adding the plugs to the disaster-response toolbox.

Classic 1937 steam engine soon to run carbon-free

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 25, 2012   View Article

A steam train built in 1937 is getting a makeover that will turn it into a “higher-speed” locomotive that runs on biocoal, a coal-like fuel made with woody plant material.

When finished, the train will be able chug along existing tracks at speeds up to 130 miles per hour without contributing to the greenhouse gas pollution blamed for global warming.

Boeing concept jet could be Prius of the skies

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 2, 2012   View Article

In 2050, flying commercial may still mean crammed overhead bins and crummy food, but the engine could be powered by liquefied natural gas or electricity, according to an ongoing study on the future of flight.

Such planes might also be constructed with lighter materials, sport high-span truss-based wings, and be routed with improved air-traffic control systems, according to Marty Bradley, a technical fellow with Boeing Research and Technology who is the leading the NASA-funded study.

Road rage at driverless cars? It’s possible

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: January 20, 2012   View Article

The road to a future where we jump in our cars, enter a destination, and let them do the driving could be filled with rage, according to an expert on driverless car technology.

For starters, driverless cars will likely be programmed to obey all traffic laws. They won’t speed and will always come to a complete stop at stop signs, for example.

Throw just a few of those law-abiding robots on roads clogged with 250 million human-controlled cars, and there’s bound to be some shaken fists, or worse.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach