Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter is here, and for cars and trucks it is no "Wonderland" - Part III

In my last two blog posts, I've talked about the crippling effect winter can have on auto and truck transportation. As you know from those entries, I propose the Aeroduct System of air cushion vehicles in elevated lightweight guideways as the ideal transportation system, during the winter and the rest of the year.

Now I will address attempts to improve the performance of wheel based vehicles in bad weather. Many intelligent efforts are being made in that direction. Overall, my response is that those efforts will be highly expensive, highly complicated but with low results. Here are some specifics.

Some efforts are being directed at improved sensing devices for the roads. An article in the October/November issue of Traffic Technology International by Melanie Scott talks about the latest devices that can count cars and also detect pavement temperature and moisture. This information is passed on to traffic control officials, and can aid them in determining road conditions. Presumably, this same information could be passed on to drivers, also letting them know road conditions ahead. This is all part of the hoped for intelligent driving of the future.

Bad weather magnifies driver error, and even more informed drivers could still make mistakes, in part due to the tendency to travel as fast as one wants regardless of weather conditions, instead of as fast as is reasonable under those conditions. The recognition of the relationship between driver error and accidents has prompted the many ongoing efforts to design cars and road systems that take the driver out of the picture, by completely automating cars and trucks. These efforts are summarized by Ryan D. Lamm in his article "Driven to It", published in the November/December, 2008 edition of Thinking Highways North America.

I commented on Mr. Lamm's article in an earlier blogpost. I'll reiterate here that no automation of wheel based vehicles and no sensing of road conditions will have as important an impact on creating ideal transportation as will the replacement of wheeled vehicles and roads with the Aeroduct System. Reducing accidents with better knowledge of road conditions and steps towards automating driver functions are steps in the right direction. But, complete automation of automobiles is a very big challenge, and I don't think it will ever happen, even with thousands of dollars of sensing and communication devices added to cars and trucks. A car or truck travels in a flat plane where other vehicles and pedestrians and animals can be in any direction, under many different weather situations. Computer sensing and reaction to all that will be extremely complicated. So, in the future. drivers will still influence the control of cars, and driver error will still be a factor, even if reduced some by technology.

Even more challenging to those who want to continue our current wheel based transportation system is that no amount of sensing and no steps towards automated cars will improve icy and snowy roads. Traffic accidents might decline, which would be a good thing, but road conditions will still be bad, and travel will still slow down greatly. The bane of winter weather for everyone is the inconvenience of increased travel time. And, all that salt and sand will still need to be dumped onto roads to make them passable at all. Only a transportation system immune to bad weather is really ideal. Only a transportation system that can be automated far less expensively than cars/trucks/roads and does not need enormous amounts of salt and sand each winter is ideal. That is why I say the Aeroduct System is the transportation modality of the future.

To those parts of the country where snowstorms and ice storms cause no end of problems each winter, I invite you to contact Aeromobile Inc. to talk to us. The population shift away from colder areas to warmer has many causes, but one of them has to be the desire to get away from the dangerous and slow travel conditions faced for three or four months each year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter is here, and for cars and trucks it is no "Wonderland" - Part II

In my most recent blog entry, I made the point that the onset of winter in many parts of North America is a real bane to the drivers of automobiles and trucks. I don't think anyone would argue with that. Now I want to discuss a very viable solution to this problem.

Those of you who have read my blog for a while will be aware of the Aeroduct System that I have developed. This transportation system consists of air cushion vehicles gliding in lightweight guideways. It would be a far better way to travel than wheeled vehicles in the winter. Among the reasons are:

1. Air cushion vehicles do not require friction to hold their place in the guideway, nor to stop. Ice and snow greatly reduce friction, and the only way a tire can hold its place or be stopped is with friction. The vehicles in the Aeroduct System will glide right over the surface of the guideway, even if that surface is covered with snow or ice. To stop, the vehicles just reverse their thrust, and the slipperiness of the surface does not impede the halting of the vehicles motion, nor any reduction in speed. And, the guideways hold the vehicles in place laterally.

Automobile and truck accidents are far more frequent in bad weather than in more moderate conditions. One example is this one from Kansas:

Sedgwick County officials recorded 359 traffic accident calls to 911 between midnight and 4 p.m. today. That compares to 41 calls the day before during the same period of time.

1 of those involved a multi-car pileup involving five or six cars on Interstate 135 just north of the Kansas Coliseum.

Of course, these numerous winter accidents require police, emergency personnel, ambulances and tow trucks to work overtime.

2. But, accidents in themselves are not the most widespread issue. The great decrease in speed necessary in bad conditions to avoid accidents and the slowdown caused by accidents blocking lanes of traffic affect everyone travelling. Not only is winter driving more dangerous to drivers, it is often much slower, too. With the Aeroduct System, these bad conditions will not require slower movement of the air cushion vehicles, and there won't be a spike in accidents. Craft in the Aeroduct will move along just fine in spite of the slick surfaces, allowing everyone to travel as fast as any other time of the year.

3. Not only are people in cars and trucks at much more risk in slippery conditions, pedestrians, bicyclists and animals are as well. Since autos and trucks are on the same surface as other travellers on foot or bike, their inability to stop or to stay on course can be injurious or fatal to those other travellers. The guideways in the Aeroduct System will be raised above pedestrians and animals. Those travelling on foot or two wheels will have the ground surface to themselves, and will never be at risk from the air cushion vehicles above taking passengers to their destinations.

4. All the salt and sand that must be spread in order to enhance traction in the winter has a environmental impact. The benefit of reducing accidents outweighs the cost to the environment, but with the Aeroduct System, there will be no need for salting and sanding. Municipalities will save all that money they spend now, and the plants, animals and drinking water will benefit as well.

There is no reason that winter travel has to be a burden in most of North America - and of course, in other parts of the globe where winter means inclement weather. But, until we decide to replace automobiles and trucks on roads with air cushion vehicles in guideways, we will continue to experience winter as a season to dread. I invite all those who want to put an end to winter's menace for travellers to contact me and find out how the Aeroduct System can be implemented for the benefit of all.

In the next installment on this topic, I'll discuss efforts to improve wheeled transport in bad weather and why I think those efforts, well meaning as they are, cannot have the same success as the Aeroduct System.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter is here, and for cars and trucks it is no "Wonderland" - Part I

It's the time of the year in much of the USA and almost all of Canada where cold, snow and ice begin to dominate the weather and create driving conditions that are often slow and difficult and sometimes very treacherous. A few recent examples from different places will suffice to illustrate this reality:

From The Grand Rapids Press on Monday December 15, 2008, 6:12 AM
After a night of rains and warm temperatures, a cold snap is turning road conditions icy.

One vehicle ended up in the median on Int. 196 in Ottawa County, reducing eastbound traffic to one lane east of Zeeland around 6 a.m. Road crews were spreading sand on the highway. Traffic also was reduced to one lane near Hudsonville, where three cars were in the median.
From on December 9, 2008 6:04 PM ET

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The season's first winter blast spawned hundreds of traffic accidents Tuesday across central Kansas as slick roads made travel hazardous for much of the day.

South central and parts of central Kansas generally had accumulations upward of 2 inches.

From the Tacoma (WA) News Tribune on as posted by Stacey Mulick on December 15th, 2008 at 06:56:54 AM

State transportation crews planned to be out overnight and this morning, treating and clearing the highways of ice.

Drivers should be prepared for slick conditions and take some precautions.

"One spin-out can block traffic for hours and cause additional incidents," transportation officials said in a press release. "And, clearing incidents can also take our crews away from road-clearing activities."

These three examples are just a tiny sample of the hundreds of news reports all across the USA and Canada of traffic slowdowns, accidents, extensive salting and sanding, and stressful driving conditions that winter brings to our roadways. Bridges are even more at risk, since they freeze first, and there is generally nowhere to slide except into other cards or in the worst of cases, off the bridge into the water below.

This rite of winter is the direct consequence of wheel based cars and trucks losing both traction and visibility in snowy and or icy conditions. Despite the best efforts of weather forecasters to predict bad weather so drivers are forewarned, and despite the efforts of road crews to plow, salt and sand roads before and during storms, each winter thousands of motorists will be involved in weather related accidents, and millions will be inconvenienced by the poor conditions. Add to that the environmental impact of distributing salt and sand in large quantities, and the expense of keeping road crews busy along with the police, ambulances, and tow trucks, and winter is not now and won't ever be a wonderland for those who travel on wheels.

This is part I of my blog entry on winter and transportation, and sets the stage for my offering the best solution to this inevitable and uneviable situation, which I will do in Part II and subsequent entries.