Ground Commute Concepts

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Some ground commute concepts to stimulate your imagination

The ground commute concepts described here have been hatching for many decades. Some have had their window of opportunity come and gone; others might still find their way into physical reality. The purpose of them here is to stimulate the reader's imagination, perhaps to find inspiration for something new that can solve some big problems and opportunities facing mankind now. A major consumer of increasingly costly energy is transportation, as well as consumer of time. Safety issues are involved; tens of thousands of people are killed on America's highways each year, and we assume that is normal. People spend hours each week commuting to and from work, involving constant attention and skill to avoid becoming one of those fatality sttistics. Our automobiles are like a piece of our home while away from home, a shelter and safe place to keep shopping items while shopping some more elsewhere; also they often are an advertisement of who we are, how great a person; and for a bachelor, an attractor for women who might like to share in the use of that glamorous car. So there are lots of factors involved in the machinery that we use for transportation. Mass transit like trains, light rail, trolley cars and busses offer higher energy efficiency and thus lower transportation cost, but usually much lower time eficiency, especially in the commute, except in high density metropolitan areas. And in all this mix, there are the rival intersts of big business, that stake out virtual territories and even hire burglars to steal essential documents so as to prevent the lone inventor from getting patents and thus cannot get financing, and thus the nation is deprived of those new potential transportation opportunities; it is all apparently prudent business practice. 

The PullBand Commute System Concept: Back when the oil crisis of the mid-1970's was ongoing, the author spent his time waiting in the long gas lines by imagining what would happen if that continued to happen and even get worse, how a metroploitan area such as Los Angeles county could resume functioning, lacking cars for people to commute to work. Busses and light rail are not able to provide transportation to the widespread homes of suburbia, would use even more gas that the individual cars did. And the transit stops to juggle between bus lines to get between any two points - home and work, for example - involves wait time out in the weather. Even in the best circumstances, it is costly in time; for example, the author had a fairly straightforward two-bus-line commute between his tiny apartment in Sunland to his volunteer work at Exposition Park, with a walk of less than a half mile at each end. The commute took three hours each way; by car it would have taken 45 minutes (other than at rush hour) so that meant six hours of each day was used up already, then add the time at work to that, for one's long workday. Anyway, back in those long waits in gas lines to fill up the car's gas tank, there was lots of time to think about things besides how much gas it was taking to keep the engine running so as to creep ahead once in awhile. 

Imagine the scenario where all access to offshore oil suddenly was blockaded off, somehting like was being endured back then in the mid-1970's, except on an essentially permanent basis. Even without international hostilities, the massive populations of Asia could conceivably compete for all the Mideast oil, and South America could decide it needs all of its own oil too for an expanding population, Africa too; besides, the available worldwide oil has already peaked in production. So, it could happen. 

So what to do in Los Angeles in the mid-1970's, with a long term severe gas shortage. There would be lots of vehicles suddenly worth no more than scrap, for one thing.  Engines could be pulled out of those cars, one set per residential or city block, to power a rope or cable that circulates around the block; initially one could grab onto the rope and be pulled along on roller skates or skateboard, coasting across intersections to the next block's circulating rope. Commutes from anywhere in Los Angeles to anywhere else could conceivably be done that way; wearing a daypack to carry things; a rainsuit for wet weather. A temporary way to get the city's workers to work and back home; a way to get the city running again at first. 

Enterprising businesses could then manufacture lightweight shell vehicles that people could keep in their garage; moving it down the driveway to have its mechanical grasper connect to the circulating cable, it would get pulled down the street like the skater, only in more comfort and with a little bit of car-like secure warmer space to ride in. Then the next expansion of the system would be for installling longer running cirulating cables overhead that are running for many blocks before looping back around; these could be running at ten or fifteen miles per hour faster than the cables running closest to the sidewalks. The shell vehicles could then use grspers to switch from slow to faster cables, using a slip clutch mechanism in the grasper to smooth the transitions. Slowing down when nearing destination would work in reverse. The next expansion would be for freeway-length circulating  cables or thin wide bands moving at even higher speed, covering the routes that the freeways had used before, perhaps along the sides of the freeways to still leave room for delivery trucks to travel. And then the next expansion would be to redesign the shell vehicles so that they would scoop air to flow under them, and being pulled along at sufficient speed by the band, it would lift a bit above the roadway to slide on efficient air bearings; if the roadway were enclosed with lightweight shell coverings to allow some of the air to flow with the string of vehicles being pulled along one direction, conceivably this could provide very energy-efficient transport of the shell vehicle between distant cities, perhaps at hundreds of miles per hour. Ariving at the destination city, one would just reverse the band or cable switching sequence until reaching the destination. It could be visualized that these shell vehicles, normally housed in one's garage, having trackways made up around some highrise office buildings, for executives to ride them right up to doors to their offices. Very time and energy efficient; point to point. During a difficult time after losing his high-tech electronics job in a RIF, the author unwisely wrote this concept up and sent it to a major automobile research center which had advertised it was working to increase transportation efficiency; the only response the author found was that, about two weeks later, all his documents at home on the concept, including computer files, and of course copies of that proposal set to the auto company, had suddenly vanished from his residence; no ransacked appearance, just everything involving that concept was gone; a targeted and expert burglary of eveything the author could have used to prove he originated the concept, to get patent so financing could be gotten. The reason became more obvious to the naive author when a few years later Los Angeles selected a light rail system to be started as a way to cope with the increasing trafic density, the initial award was for six billion dollars. Without something like the Pullband Commute system potentials, the city was stuck with light rail, which hardly serves the prupose of automobiles garaged at home; and so people were stuck with the situation of how to get to and from the rail system. This can be read about in the suthor's short sci fi story "The Novelway Proto Shop," which is part of the author's  paperback sci fi novel "Building Up."

The dashed line PLL automatic guidance system for cars and trucks concept: This was thought up by the author in the mid-1960's, and was put in a sealed envelope and sent to himself by certified mail, a way back then thought to be able to prove originality. Then the concept was offered to the current employer who was not at all intersted in it, not their thing. After a RIF there, he also offered it to the next emplyer, whose field was not quite so far away from being able to use it, but the employer company never acknowledged receipt of the idea. Anyway, the idea was simple, as most of the author's concepts are. It would involve painting dotted lines on streets and freeways, much like the ones that define driving lanes nowadays; except these lines would be distinct for optical sensors such as by color. The vehicle would have its speed controlled to maintain a constant number of dashes pass under per time increment. Thus where traffic would go faster, the dashes would be further apart; where slower, the dashes would be closer together. Any overshoot or undershoot wuld be counted and made up by the speed control system, such as when taking offramps or getting on the freeway ramp. And of course, the automatic guidance would follow the dashed line. The vehicle would essentially be phase-locked onto a specific position in the flowing traffic, each vehicle's position always fairly precisely defined. Gaps in the trafic would be sensed automatically, and would start up the next vehicle waiting in a parking area at each on ramp, to get locked into that specific traffic slot. The map of the freeway system ould provide data on where the offramps were, and the vehicle's driver would just tell his vehicle to optically read for the upcoming desired offramp, so the vehicle would not ignore the side-leading dased line but instead follow it, still locked into speed and thus position, getting automatically moved to some available temporary parking spot, from where the driver would take over driving the surface streets to destination. The master clock defining the timing from which to count the dashes per second, would be recieved by the vehicle's radio; nowadays the internet or cellular system could provide the city-wide synchronous timing required.

Continuous solar powered rail acrtoss mountainous regions and flatlands concept: This is a more recent concept, thinking of the large distances across the Cascades in Washington state. How to make a highly energy efficient transportation system if energy were in very short supply, and time of travel was not critical. If we consider a path across a partly mountainous long distance area, with end points that are at about the same altitude, a continuous flexible vehicle on that path would have the weight being lifted up one side of the mountain, would be balanced by the weight going down the other side of the mountain. This is assuming, of course, again that it is a continuous and flexible vehicle. Given a low friction system, such as modern wheel bearings and a railway-like steel-to-steel rolling interace, imagine low mass cannisters that are all connected by a very strong flexible stainless steel band, looping in a continous path between endpoint destinations, say Seattle to Spokane, WA. Solar cells on top of each cannister provide energy to small drive motors on each rolling cannister; it all moving at a slow speed of maybe a few miles per hour, depending on the average sunlight along the overall path. Nonperishable goods could be put in a cannister somewhere, with automatic instructions to remove the cannister at a given destination along the pathway, when it is passing by. This slow microrailway never stops, so the loading and unloading must be done on the fly; but at a few miles per hour, that ought to not be too difficult to mechanize. This solar powered continuous rail transportation system might take several days to cross the state, but at little or no expenditure of petrochemical fuels, except when cloudy. This concept was created since retiring here in the state of Washington, while traveling similar routes by car.

The pylon bucket brigade transportation concept: This concept was conceived for use on a fictious planet covered with lava fields, where it would be extremely difficult to build roadways. Possibly there are areas on Earth that would be able to use such a system, but the concept was created to deal with this fictious lava-covered world's scenario (see the sci fi novel "Going Past the Town Prison", and the still-being-written novel "Three Species on a Lava World" sequel to it.) 

A line of pylons, perhaps a hundred meters tall, would have a pair of rigid coupled contra-rotating arms of, say eighty meters length. In other words, the pylon's arms are swinging in opposite directions to each other, geared to precisely do so. The pylons are spaced so that a container gets handed off from the arm of one pylon to the next, synchronously, like a bucket brigade, down the string of pylons. Ideally it would work with a contant flow of containers; some would carry material, such as water scooped from a lake, and others could be built to carry personnel. In the novels, such a pylon transportation system was used in one system to haul water across the rugged terrain; elsewhere to carry other kinds of goods, and both could have a personnel container placed instead of a materials carrying container. The weight of the containers is always balanced in the up and down swing of the cross-coupled arms this way, for very efficient transportation; in a sunny area, solar cells on each pylon, along with a sliding weight energy storage system, would supply the energy used to make up for frictional losses and unequal payload weights between the sides. This concept was conceived while writing the first novel of the Lava World, written in 2009.