Friday, June 15, 2018

Perhaps the saddest part is that if some Silicon Valley billionaire gives this project $100 million, I won't be surprised.

The video at the bottom of the post has been popping up all over the place (I suppose this makes me part of the problem as well). The original footage (without text) is from a Russian company that apparently specializes in fancy CGI clips of profoundly stupid but cool looking transportation ideas.

I had originally intended to approach this as another "the more things change, the more they stay the same" story, but I realized that would be unfair to our forefathers. They had their share of silly ideas, but not this silly.

To be viable, a proposed technology either has to do something new, or do something substantially better than the technology currently filling that niche. The dirigible train was probably never a viable idea, but it did offer at least the potential of a lower cost method of building elevated trains, and there are real advantages to elevated construction.

By comparison, it's difficult to see any area of superiority with the train plane. Before someone from the back row shouts something about this system being more energy efficient than regular airplanes, it's important to note that the niche being competed for here is with trains not airplanes. The primary advantages of aircraft are speed, flexibility and minimal infrastructure. Track-dependent systems need to be compared to trains.

And the person to trains looks awful. It doesn't appear to offer a significant advantage in speed or cost. It requires a specialized electrified track. The capacity of the aircraft is extremely limited compared to that of the train. The footprint of the track horizontally and vertically is really big, particularly when you take into account the necessary separation between the parallel tracks going different directions.

This is an exceptionally good example of what you might call anti-engineering. Engineers strive to find the simplest, most reliable solution to a problem, a solution that maximizes functionality while minimizing cost and implementation time. What we have here and in many other recent proposals (remember the bodega artificial intelligence vending machine?) Are the exact opposite of good engineering; they add expensive complication with little or no increase in functionality, just to look "futuristic."

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