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Pipeline Mass Transit? 557

Posted by michael
from the futurama dept.
pipingguy writes "'Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) is a new kind of transportation system that requires less than two percent of the energy of current transportation methods. It is also much safer, and can be faster. [...] Anyone can visualize 2 tubes (one for each direction) along a travel route. Air is permanently removed from the tubes; so travel takes place without friction. Pressurized passenger capsules (like a 2 - 8 person airplane cabin), travel in the tubes on thin steel wheels or on nearly frictionless Maglev. Airlocks allow access without admitting air to the tubes. Linear motors (as used on new rollercoasters) accelerate the capsules. During most of the trip the capsules coast; using no power. When the capsules slow down, linear generators recover most of the electrical energy used to accelerate the capsules.' Some CG images and drawings here, the FAQ is here." MSNBC had an article on monorails a few days ago. Don't bother making Simpsons jokes, the article has them covered already.
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Pipeline Mass Transit?

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  • Hm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tuffnut (618438)
    And what would happen should the system happen to malfunction and shutdown locking the passengers inside with a limited supply of air?
    • Same story with the jetliners we're flying in. They're pressurized containers flying at altitude. In theory, one can fly longer than the air would last in the cabin... How do they manage to keep enough breathable air in the plane to last for a 10 hour international flight?
      • by Skyshadow (508) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @03:14AM (#4587048) Homepage
        Same story with the jetliners we're flying in

        Except without the falling and the crashing and the screaming.

      • WHAT?! Miles of difference between a plane. They're talking about a cabin surrounded in vacuum, whereas a plane has at least a thin atmosphere around it at height. If there was a problem, the plane can LAND.
        Or, at the very least, God forbid let's say there was some emergency to do with cabin air when they were over water at least an hour out from any landmass. The plane could descend and as a last resort, crack a window or two (literally).
        But this capsule thing.. No different from being out in space. If there's a serious problem with the system, such as the city suffers a power failure, like has happened to me once on the SkyTrain in Vancouver, or perhaps an earthquake kills the power station(s)... well... I sure wouldn't want to be in those little coffins...

    • Re:Hm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Syre (234917) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @06:34AM (#4587407)
      This patent is another ridiculous one. It's nothing new at all.

      I can't find any reference to it online, but in the early 80s or late 70s NASA came out with a design for a trans-continental train... in a vacuum tube.

      The train was to have (guess what?) two tubes, and would be driven by maglev (360 degree maglev -- on all sides of the train, keeping it centered in the tube). There was much discussion of what happened if the power went out, how it would come to a soft landing, etc.

      The other idea in the design was that to save energy, most of the power used to accelerate one train would come from the power generated in decelerating the other.

      The design document included the projected costs of construction ($100 billion or so, if memory serves me correctly), the speed (5000 MPH), and the projected ticket cost ($40 NYC to LA).

      The train cars were designed with chairs which rotated, because half the trip would be acceleration, and half deceleration, so you'd face forwards for the first half and backwards for the second.

      The trip was projected to take about 45 minutes.

      I wish I could find it online, but I was very impressed with the design at the time, and remember most of the details.

      Hey, has anyone read NASA's "Space Communities: A Design Study" from 1976? That's another not-well-remembered document. We're barely at stage 2 (out of 6 or so in the book) so far. The L5 space station NASA's just proposing is in there... these guys think long term (or some of 'em anyway).
  • Sure, the energy requirements may be a fraction, but consider the cost of installing a complete system in an urban environment that could actually use it? Here in Chicago, it would be extremely difficult to construct a good system without severely screwing up traffic even worse than it is already.
    • Re:Infrastructure. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Skyshadow (508)
      Here in Chicago, it would be extremely difficult to construct a good system without severely screwing up traffic even worse than it is already.

      Which, of course, is why Chicago has never had a widely-used mass transit system consisting of, say, an elevated train of some sort.

      I don't see why this sort of system couldn't be used to replace an existing one. Living in the Bay Area, however, I can testify that the major problem with mass transit isn't the technology behind it, but rather the corrupt, power-hungry shills who plan and execute it. Our BART system, for example, has been in service for something like 30 years and still doesn't run to the Silicon Valley or any of the airports.

  • Um... (Score:2, Funny)

    by K8Fan (37875)

    The very first underground train in New York worked exactly like this, pneumatically. Everything old is new again, eh?

    • The New York train was pulled along by a pressure differance between the front and back of the train with atmospheric pressure in the back. This new train has a vacuum both in front and back of the train and uses linear motors for propulsion.
    • Re:Um... (Score:5, Funny)

      by DarkSkiesAhead (562955) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:58AM (#4587000)

      The very first underground train in New York worked exactly like this, pneumatically. Everything old is new again, eh?
      Yeah, just like the old pneumatic underground made by Alfred Ely Beach, except it's not pneumatic. And it uses two single directional tubes, recycles energy, travels at 300mph, is powered by an electric motor, and runs in a vacuum. But, other than that it's exactly the same.
    • Re:Um... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by chhamilton (264664) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @03:36AM (#4587107)
      The very first underground train in New York worked exactly like this, pneumatically. Everything old is new again, eh?

      How exactly does this qualify as pneumatic? I think this would be "anti-pneumatic" if such a term existed... ;)

      Pneumatic implies they are using air-pressure as the driving force. Most pneumatic systems (like money tubes at some theatres and large stores) actually suck air out, and as the air at the intake of the tube rushes to fill the vacuum, it has to push the capsule. This system talks about using evacuated tubes (ie: a vacuum), so that the capsules can travel with pretty much no friction. The entire tube system is a vacuum, so there's no suck and no blow; the actual driving force would likely be electric...
    • Re:Um... (Score:3, Informative)

      by schtum (166052)
      here's a link for anyone wondering what he's talking about. The similarities might seem superficial, but it's a fair bet that whoever designed the new system was inspired by this old (130 years old!) idea.

      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/technology/nyundergro und/secret.html [pbs.org]

  • 1) maintaining a vaccuum would be pretty difficult and expensive.

    2) maintaining a vaccuum could conceivably be dangerous.

    3) most right-of-ways for such a huge undertaking are probably already claimed by other projects in any major metro. Yah, I know eminent domain & all that, but that'll end up in court forever.

  • by Skyshadow (508) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:37AM (#4586902) Homepage
    I think this will never see the light of day in the US.

    Why, you ask? Not because it's not interesting and efective technology, but because we Americans don't like mass transit. We want cars. We have a *right* to cars. Look in the Bill of Rights. It's there. Or if it's not, I think it should be, so it might as well be there right next to my right to own a minigun.

    Seriously, though, there are hundreds neat ideas for viable mass-transit available, but I'm stuck riding a 30 year-old, beaurocracy-lader system called BART to work everyday. That has, to put it mildly, soured my viewpoint somewhat. Until we remove the corruption that wil always accompany mass transit, we might as well forget about it.

    • by ergo98 (9391) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @03:14AM (#4587046) Homepage Journal
      I think this will never see the light of day in the US.

      I doubt it'll see the light of day anywhere for quite a few years. The massive, extraordinary effort to make a pressureless vacuum in a tube long enough that trains are going 300kmh just boggles the mind: We can barely dig a little tunnel under the English Channel, and we're seriously proposing vacuum tubes? We have enough trouble making little spheres as vacuum tube, much less some sort of system that's supposed to let people in and out, etc. Maintaining a vacuum at sealevel would be a massive energy sucker.

      BTW: Some other people mentioned a prior New York system of pneumatic trains that used suction, basically, to pull the train forward. This was immediately pooh poohed (hehe...just had to use that phrase) by some saying it's so much different. Of course the advantage of a vacuum is that there is no wind resistance: The exact feat can be accomplished by accelerating the air in the tunnel to the same speed as the train (of course it'd be a circular system, so there wouldn't be the energy requirements of a standard wind tunnel where stationary air is pulled in and then forced out against more stationary air). Impossible? Certainly not any more impossible than magically making a multi hundred KM vacuum tube. It'd be a lot safer too.
    • by mentin (202456) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @04:14AM (#4587189)
      Not because it's not interesting and efective technology, but because we Americans don't like mass transit.
      Americans don't like mass transit because they never had good mass transit. All mass transit talks here in Seattle are about freeing freeways during peak hours. Thus, when they plan bus schedule, they only plan for those peak hours. So there are lots of busses during the peak, but most routes end completely after 8PM. Also most routes go along the highways, so you still need a car to go to 'park & ride'.

      Looks like the busses here don't serve their passengers, but serve those traveling by car (by removing other's cars during peak hours).

      So I use the car only because I may sometimes (3-5%) need it. If the bus was available (at least once an hour) anytime it is needed, I would not use my car and switch to bus.

      I talked with American (car mechanic ironically) who just returned from a trip to Russia, and he was amazed by availability of all the options of mass transit - buses that go 24 hour a day, trams, trains that go to almost every town (and do this often and fast). He traveled by mass transit, and he traveled a lot. Tired after the plain, he was so annoyed that he had to drive 4 hours to his home town, instead of sleeping those 4 hours in the train :)

      • I agree. I lived in London, UK for two months last spring, and I was amazed. The underground stops at midnight, but the busses run all night long. And getting into and out of London is relatively easy as well. Admittedly, I walked a lot more than I would be willing to in the US, but in the heart of London, you don't usually have to go more than 3 blocks to get to a station on the underground.

        I knew several people who lived outside of London, as well - and only two of them had cars.

        As a whole, Americans are too lazy to make public transportation viable. Unless you're in a big city, the only people who take the bus are people too poor to have a car - and since so few people use the buses, there is no incentive to a) have busses stop more often, or b) put stops closer together.

        I couldn't even get a job this summer because I didn't have a car...
        • by VC (89143) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @07:07PM (#4590748)
          I just got back from living in london as well.
          I remeber one morning walking to vauxhall train station to get the train to victoria and seeing cherie blair (the pm's wife) walking to to train, and she was pregnant at the time, and had just 1 unarmed bobby (uniformed police officer) with her, and he was just escorting her till she got on the train.
          Thats the big difference, in the UK public transport IS just how you get from one place to another, not a social idelogical or ecological choice, and thats the way it should be.
          Screw travelling in tubes, point to point transport, high speed transport is not what you need. What you need is a broad interconnected, slow safe and frequently opperating network.
      • by Zakabog (603757) <john@@@jmaug...com> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @09:51AM (#4587699)
        I talked with American (car mechanic ironically) who just returned from a trip to Russia, and he was amazed by availability of all the options of mass transit - buses that go 24 hour a day, trams, trains that go to almost every town (and do this often and fast).

        Maybe you should come to NY... I live in a small part of NYC (Staten Island) and even here there are buses that run 24/7. A bus usually comes every half hour all day. There's also a ferry that goes to manhatten (when people talk about NYC, they're usually talking about manhatten), from staten island, at least every hour (every 15 minutes during rush hour.) There's the metro north also, I can take a train to just about any place in the state of NY for a few dollars. The buses and subways cost $1.50 (the ferry is free and express buses are like coaches, comfy seats and stuff, they're $3.)

        There's also this great little card called a metrocard. You can go to just about any deli or small store or whatever and pick one up. They usually have $15 metrocards, they work on buses and trains, when you get on the bus you just stick the card in the slot and get on, very quick and very easy. You can refill them too, much easier than carrying change or tokens. The trains have turnstyles so you just slide the card through and go through the turnstyle. You can also transfer from one thing to the next, like lets say you needed to take the S74 (S is for staten island, 74 is the route) to the ferry and needed to get onto the 1 train in manhatten, you just pay for the bus and on the metrocard you get a transfer (or you ask the driver for one if you payed with tokens or change) and you get onto the train for free.
    • ok then, how about this: you own your own tube capsule. You have a sort of offline station [electric-bikes.com] in your neighbourhood which you drive your capsule to in a conventionaly way. You put your capsule into the airlock and its wheels retract. The capsule asks you "where do you want to go?" You tell it. The air comes out of the tube in the offline station. You see green lights. Then you hold onto your retinas as the capsule goes to 300mph and your little fuzzy dice start pointing towards the rear windshield...

      kinda like in hover carnage [sourceforge.net] except without all the death and stuff...
    • Not because it's not interesting and efective technology, but because we Americans don't like mass transit.

      Pfeh. If the population density of a place gets high enough that people start talking about mass transit, move. Cities are generally not a healthy environment for humans. Some people may prefer to live in them, but you certainly don't have to.

      Flee the cities. Flee the suburbs. Move to west Texas, or Montana, or Nebraska... or Australia. Whatever floats your boat. Get yourself some land and live in a house where you can't hear or smell your neighbors.

      Don't fence me in, baby.
  • It will never happen (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SexyKellyOsbourne (606860) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:39AM (#4586910) Journal
    We could have had a reliable form of mass transit in the United States in major cities within the 20th century, if:

    1) The government never funded the interstate highway project, which was a military-industrial complex endeavor that would provide ways to move troops across the country in case of invasion like the Autobahn did in WWII, but was more to serve the needs of making the automobile the main form of transportation in the US.

    2) The auto and oil companies didn't conspire [mlui.org] to rip up all the rails so the automobile could take over.

    Efficient mass transportation will never happen as long as cuthroat greedy multinational corporations control the world -- and we are going to pay for it dearly when we run out of fossil fuels in 40 years.
    • by Skyshadow (508) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:46AM (#4586938) Homepage
      You forgot #3:

      3) If a mass-transit system could somehow avoid the beaurocratic nightmare of individual power-grabs and assheaded planning and become a useful system which serviced its customers in a logically optimized manner.

      I take BART into work every day. Every day, I end up standing for half an hour on the way in and another half hour on the way out. Now, remind me, why is mass transit unpopular?

      • It is possible to have a good public transit system, though. I grew up on Long Island, and the LIRR was terrific (if a bit filthy) .. trains run all night and at least for the lines that ran near my town, i almost never had to stand when i was doing the rush-hour commute thing.

        Now i live in Manhattan, and the subways are terrific (if a bit more filthy) .. that's why everyone from CEOs to homeless people ride them.

        I'm sorry that your BART service is too crowded -- a friend of mine from SF once told me how she would get on a train in the wrong direction so that she could sit down, go two stops to the terminating station, and have a seat all the way home.

        But i think that local and commuter mass transit can work really well if enough of an investment is made (running trains all night is a huge help too) .. it's long distance train service that i think blows. With Amtrak, you pay for a ticket, go to the train station, and, um, wait around because your train is delayed an hour. Or, you can pay double and get a ride on the luxury train (on the east coast, it's called the Metroliner or Acela), which is basically the same train except it leaves on time.

        What other industry could survive like that? "You can either pay us a reasonable rate and be almost certain to sit around in the station while your train is delayed forever, or you can pay us double, and for that, we'll actually provide you the service we advertise."
    • The biggest problem with mass transit is this: What if I don't want to go where everyone else does? You can't have mass transit to everywhere, certainly not up to my Grandma's cabin.

    • by superyooser (100462) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @06:18AM (#4587387) Homepage Journal
      The reality is that we Americans have chosen reliable private transit over any public transit because it fits our politics and attitude. The lifestyle that flows from democratic principles emphasizes individual choice and personal mobility with the maximum amount of flexibility in all aspects of transportation. That's why we have individually-owned automobiles. We can control our own destiny. We aren't beholden to the sorts of limitations and annoyances that come with communal travel.

      Notice how "mass entertainment" in movie theaters is facing a challenge from the home theater trend. People are increasingly choosing to watch movies at home on their DVD players and big-screen TVs with surround sound systems. It puts the individual in control of geographic location of viewing, start time, end time, pausing, instant replays, volume, language, viewing angle, viewing chair/sofa/bed/carpet, lighting, smoking/non-smoking, drinking if you please, any food allowed, and countless other variables that affect the entertainment experience.

  • Childhood dream (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GeorgeTheNorge (67545)
    When I was a kid there was a store that still used pneumatic tubes to transport invoices from the cash register to the office and back. I always wanted to ride in one.

    It won't be the same without giant quarters and nickels along side of me though.
  • by DocStout (622015) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:40AM (#4586917)
    ...but will we ever see anything like it? I often wonder how many advances in large industries like transportation are blocked by large companies who would lose a lot of money by the loss of maintenance revenue a beneficial technology would cause. Consider the problem of transportation commissions and the constant struggle to maintain their piece of state or city budget. If better technologies emerge requiring less upkeep once built, and some of the money allocated to the department goes away, jobs are lost... I wonder if advances like this actually taking hold aren't just a pipe dream. (err.. pun intended)
  • by MalleusEBHC (597600) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:43AM (#4586928)
    Now that articles are making pre-emptive Simpsons jokes, if they would just include "OMG FP FP FP!!" and "Imagine a Beowulf cluster of...", we could eliminate half the comments on Slashdot.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    > Don't bother making Simpsons jokes, the article has them covered already.

    But that's the kind of commentary Slashdot does best!
  • by HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:45AM (#4586936)
    From their website "For fiscal operation, both corporate and public operation is encouraged by the non-exclusive, low cost licensing plan. The license promotes both cooperation and competition."
  • The next step: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GraZZ (9716)
    In Matt Groening's Futurama [fox.com], this form of transportation is commonplace. Even better, they've been able to do away with the annoying capsule!

    I hope that by the 30th century, we too will have mastered the technology required to insert a human being in a vacuum tube without them exploding or asphyxiating :P
  • For one, how does removing air remove friction? It means that there is no atmospheric friction, yes, but there is still contact with the walls or ground of the tube.

    "During most of the trip the capsules coast; using no power."

    Um, no. It either has to be running on wheels or constantly supported by electromagnets the entire time. If the first, there is a constant requirement of energy to continue moving a massive object against ground friction. If the second, well, maglev isn't cheap. Even if, as suggested, "linear generators recover most of the electrical energy used to accelerate the capsules", that is certainly not a lossless process.

    Second, how do you maintain a seal on a tube the length of a subway tunnel? That's a huge surface area, and not particularly easy to make either waterproof or airtight, even underground. And what happens if there is a breach in a passenger car? Your passengers will suddenly find themselves in an oxygen-less environment. Even a cabin depressurization on an aircraft at 10 km doesn't subject the passengers to total vacuum.

    This proposal doesn't strike me as being fully thought out.
    • I'm pretty sure if you check with any form of rail transportation - friction between wheel and rail is very minimal. My guess is that atmospheric friction and slope use *much* more energy. Not saying that it won't need *some* energy to keep it going, but it would be nothing compared to the same situation withair friction.

      Then again, I could be wrong...

      As for the problems that would be caused by a breach in a passenger car - you are 100% on that one - bad mojo would happen.
  • whooosh.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Z4rd0Z (211373) <joseph at mammalia dot net> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:48AM (#4586948) Homepage
    Can anyone say vaporware? This sounds really cool, but look at the language they use: all benefits and no drawbacks. Can anyone trust a viewpoint like that? Plus, the website is really horribly designed, which leads me to believe they have no money and have never built one of these. I like the idea though, a lot. I'm just skeptical of these utopian idealists.
    • Re:whooosh.. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by aengblom (123492) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @03:15AM (#4587051) Homepage
      vaporware

      I was going to knock you about that comment. Vaporware requires the promise of a product--and there is no chance this is close to the realistic implementation plan--so vaporware would put this in a more "advanced" state than any promise they could make.

      Except--the company actually is promising this.

      It's an interesting idea, but it's wrong on so many levels

      1. The government is a provides much of the funds for transportation. This would be totally privatized and would need to be MUCH cheaper to compete
      2. People aren't stupid. Patents on software is one thing. Patents for transportation won't go over with the public--at all. The public will Get It(TM) and won't pay a charge.
      3. Trains don't work. This seems like more expensive trains...
      4. Nature hates a vacume. In other words $$$
      5. Of which they state: we have none

      • Except--the company actually is promising this.

        Actually, from reading the FAQ, it seems like the company is merely promising franchise rights to this, not any actual end-product itself. That's worse than vaporware. That's meta-vaporware. Yuck.
  • by starphish (256015) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:48AM (#4586949) Homepage
    I belive that this was originally the idea of Tenacious D [tenaciousd.com]. You can hear Jack Black sing about it in the song "City Hall [lyricsstyle.com]".
  • by rynthetyn (618982) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:50AM (#4586962) Journal
    They say that the pods (or whatever you call them), will run on thin steel wheels, I suppose because they think that the thinner the wheels, the less friction or something, which shows that they obviously never took general college physics, because if they did, they would know that friction is not dependent on how big the contact area is.
    • by rossifer (581396) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @03:22AM (#4587075) Journal
      If we were discussing ideal friction, you'd be right. However, there's one big problem with that: The real world isn't ideal, and race cars have bigger contact patches than minivans for one very good reason: more friction.

      Finally, friction isn't the only source of energy loss in a rolling tire. In fact, as long as you aren't skidding, almost none of the energy is lost to friction (because rolling friction is really a special case of static friction and energy is lost in dynamic friction). Most of the energy in rolling a tire is lost continuously flexing (and heating) the tire sidewall under the weight of the vehicle.

      Thin steel wheels deform a whole lot less than radials and will therefore lose less energy when rolling.

      But Heinlein had the right idea. Dig the tunnels deeper and have them follow great circles through the crust. Then launch the cabs to orbital velocity (but inside the earth). No wheels. Or expensive magnets. Just a nice vacuum and a very fast ride. Of course, the acceleration/deceleration might be a bit brutal...

      Regards,
      Ross
      • But Heinlein had the right idea. Dig the tunnels deeper and have them follow great circles through the crust. Then launch the cabs to orbital velocity (but inside the earth). No wheels. Or expensive magnets. Just a nice vacuum and a very fast ride. Of course, the acceleration/deceleration might be a bit brutal...

        Turns up in the Empire of the Petal Throne RPG as well - world-spanning tubes that require no power, you just drop the capsule and gravity does the rest. You don't need escape velocity; the tube, from a geometric point of view, is dead straight, but from a gravitic potential point of view, it's a slope down for half the way and a slope up for the second half. Since the the energy gained from the "fall" is exactly the same as that lost on the "rise" (not allowing for friction), you don't need any power at all.
  • I can see it now. They'll get Gates to finance this thing (he just loves innovation, and giving money, doesn't he?). Now, he'll make them use Windows boxes for traffic control. Next thing you now, some controller downtown will get a blue flash on his face, and you'll find yourself in a cute little cylindrical coffin stuck in a tube-traffic jam, in vacuum, with 18 minutes of oxygen left and a real urgent need for a bathroom. You can say I'm old fashioned, but I'll stick to my bike for a while, thank you very much.

  • by cheshiremackat (618044) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:52AM (#4586972)
    I think this will be _very_ difficult to establish.... not only for the aforementioned ROW considerations, but for physical reasons. A *perfect* vacuum is almost unattainable on Earth (very small capsules notwithstanding)... the energy required would be enormous to create a vacuum that is sufficient to reduce friction and drag to useful levels.... Besides, what are the occupants going to breathe? The capsules would have to be airtight... all of this seems pretty challenging and time consuming for a marginal benefit... I would like to know how much better this system is compared to straight mag-lev... _C
  • by Kaz Riprock (590115) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:54AM (#4586982)
    Fry: Whoa!! [He sees the tube transport system and gives it a try.]

    Man: Radio City Mutant Hall! [The man is sucked up into the tube]

    Fry: Um. Cross Town Express? [He is sucked up into the tube] Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! [People look up from the street and stare at him. He is taken across the city, past the Statue of Liberty, underwater and finally out the other end smack into a building.]

    Man: Pfft! Tourist!
  • by Dynedain (141758) <{slashdot2} {at} {anthonymclin.com}> on Sunday November 03, 2002 @02:59AM (#4587002) Homepage
    You'll never keep a vaccum with this.

    Not with the hundreds of miles of tube.
    Not with termal expansion/contraction.
    Not in an active city with people building, digging holes, running infrastructure.
    Not in an even remotely seismic active area (remember the earthquake in NY?).

    While its a cool idea, its just that, an idea. There's no way to overcome the problems and still make it as durable and cost less than existing technology.
    • Right to the point! Maintaining the vacuum in high-volume vessels is extremely difficult. In addition to the parent post:

      - Need for constant pumping takes energy. In our lab a vacuum pump consumes 3 kW in order to maintain pressure of 10 ^-6 Torr for a modest 30 l chamber.

      -From the article: "Constructing a highway causes over twenty times the environmental damage as building ETT. ETT uses much less materials."
      Bull! Vacuum chamber of that volume must be made of metal (stainless steel probably) with massive walls.
      "tube capacity is high (can exceed 80 lanes of traffic)"
      Can you imagine amount of metal needed for say 100 miles of this miraculous transportation system? BTW, prior to the commission, Vacuum vessels must be cleaned with nasty chemicals in order to avoid degassing.

      I am under the impression that et3.com is also offering the Brooklyn Bridge for sale.
    • by sane? (179855) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @04:27AM (#4587208)
      This concept has a whole bunch of problems.
      1. As you say, keeping the vacuum would be a significant problem, which conveniently is ignored in the writeup. Saying that, if a very gas impermiable material is developed the rate of gas inflow could be limited such that low level pumping would keep the systems stable.
      2. The idea that this company holds a patent is a bit of a joke. Anyone who wants to do something like this can avoid the patent, or invalidate it. Prior art is everywhere. Sounds like someone has convinced a VC to provide money on the basis that there is the potential to rake it in in future. That's good, nice to see something useful being done with the money, but god, I hate using patents to do it, it just brings the whole thing into disrepute.
      3. Terrorist action would be a significant problem. Take out one of these carriages and the fact that all the rest are close behind, travelling at 400-4000 mph, makes for a tempting target. The system is in no way robust enough.
      4. Construction costs would be MASSIVE. This thing has to be fairly straight and flat, otherwise the stress of the forces as these carriages 'go round the corner' will pull it apart. We are back to the situation of the railways. Laying two strips of metal is fairly cheap. Laying two strips of metal straight and flat, by cutting through hills and building viaducts is very expensive.
      5. The carriages are too small and cramped to be serious for travel. With so few passengers per carriage the cost of the upkeep and construction starts to dominate. Better to use a train concept, with large carriages and longer trains, and only a few with drive units etc.
      Saying all this, there is a way that something related to this type of concept can be made practical - but it won't be in the US. Its much more likely in Japan or China.
  • by g4dget (579145) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @03:02AM (#4587010)
    Evacuated tube transports have been in science fiction since the 1960's, if not earlier. They look like they may be a good idea, but it seems unlikely to me that the airlines are going to let this happen; like Hollywood, they like to protect their market, society be damned.

    Note that for local transportation, the problem isn't speed but coverage. I can't realistically take public transportation to work because it would take me far too long to get to the nearest station and because trains take far too long to get to the destination (because of a lot of stops).

    For local transportation, another concept makes more sense to me: Personal Rapid Transit [1] [cprt.org], [2] [washington.edu]. Personal Rapid Transit consists of small passenger cabins (1-3 people) that you call to the nearest station and take to the station nearest to your destination, almost like a taxi or chauffeur. And unlike evacuated tube transports, they do not require a lot of digging or construction.

    And, politically, personal rapid transit seems more promising in the short term: it's something that can be done at the local level.

    • yet these guys have a patent on exactly that.

      Strange that the patent examiners would be unaware of at least 30 years of open speculation.

      If I didn't accept their competence as an absolute, I'd start wondering about the credibility of the patent office.
    • Note that for local transportation, the problem isn't speed but coverage. I can't realistically take public transportation to work because it would take me far too long to get to the nearest station and because trains take far too long to get to the destination (because of a lot of stops).

      That's exactly why mass transit in its current form will never be popular in the USA. My personal pet idea (probably already invented somewhere else) would be a standardized mini car that could be instantly loaded in and out of one of these tube transports. You would have three modes: free range electric mini car (manually driven) for getting to/from the end destination, mini-car loaded on transporter in normal tubes (automatically driven) for urban commuting, and mini-car in vacuum tube for 300MPH interstate trips. (Note that without having to deal with scheduled flight times, airplane taxiing and cow herding delays, you'd get to your destination much quicker in a 300MPH self-scheduled tube than all but the very longest scheduled 500MPH flights.)

      The mini car could be electric and would recharge whenever it's in the system. When you request your destination, a central computer instantly allocates the tube transports and adjusts all tube traffic to give you a clear shot to where you're going.

      With this kind of system, you'd get the best of both worlds: The freedom to get within a few feet of anywhere you want on your own schedule, and the ability to sit back and read during the bulk of your commute time. As a bonus, the 300MPH evacuated tubes eliminate the hassles of airports and rental cars. You just stay in your own personal germ-free car in all of these cases.

      • Check the PRT web sites. Some PRT concepts involve personally owned cars/cabins. However, I see mostly disadvantages with that. An I certainly wouldn't want anything maintained by Joe Somebody to travel at 300mph+ in the same tube as me.
    • They look like they may be a good idea

      Except they don't. Read the hundred or so comments criticizing this idea on the grounds of practicality (that much vacuum is effectively impossible) and safety (that much vacuum is effectively a giant bomb).

      As for personal rapid whatever you said, it suffers from exactly the same problem as all other rail-based transportation: there will always be many more destinations than there are stations. For the majority of the population, such a system would be an inconvenience at best.
  • If they did combine an airless tunnel with maglev suspension/propulsion then in fact there would be nearly zero friction. But maintaining a vacumn across a tube covering many kilometers? The technical and safety challenges are astounding. They are better off just thinking of a way to produce unlimited energy cleanly rather than this impossible goal of huge vacumn filled tubes.

    Moreover this is not like the pneumatic tubes you might have seen at various places that use differential air pressure to suck or push canisters along. Those are hardly high speed and hardly frictionless.

  • L. Neil Smith suggested something like this in one of his books, but he wanted to power it with liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen behind the vehicle in the tube.
  • Several Comments (Score:5, Insightful)

    by unsinged int (561600) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @03:17AM (#4587056)
    They must maintain a vacuum however the length of one tube is from city to city, so even one hole along the path destroys the vacuum. I imagine maintenance costs to prevent this and security costs to prevent malicious people putting holes in it would be high.

    Another thing is suppose one of the cars gets stuck. These things are going 300-4000mph in an environment that's supposed to be virtually frictionless. How do you stop all the other "cars" behind the broken one in time?

    How gradual do the turns have to be? You can't exactly make a quick right turn at 300+mph and still have a comfortable ride. Maybe there will be no turns and it will stop every time it needs to change direction.

    And doesn't this kinda remind people of network switches? Computerized management of "people packets" zooming through tubes?

  • Strange New World (Score:2, Insightful)

    by metoc (224422)
    The original idea dates back to the 60's and was featured in the movie "Strange New World" with John Saxon.

    It was a transcontinental and transoceanic system that ran a mile or more underground. The system did not necessarily require a true vacuum, just enough to permit travel at Mach 2+. Once established the vacuum would be easy to maintain since their is very little air or other gases a mile down. The reason for the depth was that it eliminated the need to go around obstacles, just straight lines. Safety wise, it is similar to the Chunnel, with a smaller maintenance tunnel running parallel to the main tunnel which could be used for emergency exists.

    How safe is it? Remember modern airplanes have similar problems at 40,000 feet. Outside temperature is -40, almost no air pressure, and a loss of power or structural integrity is almost always fatal. Your choice of asphyxiation or hyperthermia in 20 seconds!

    All of it assumed that we would have nuclear powered tunneling machines that could allow the construction off a coast to coast tunnel in a decade. Basically you would take an elevator down to a subway station and travel from New York to Los Angeles in an hour.
    • Well, maybe it was like that in the movie, but in reality there's lots of gases a mile down, and the temperature is very hot.

      I think this idea is totally possible. But so are Dyson spheres, and I'm not expecting that project to start for a while. The capital expenditure for any large scale aplication of this is far too high.

      I think the ETT people basicly have an idea (a bit loopy) and a patent (from a loopy patent office), some cool-looking CGI, and a website.

      Oh yeah, and seeing as the posters name is 'pipeguy', they might have some good alternative marketing techniques. Still, good luck to them.

  • by Cyno01 (573917)
    they already have something like this with legos, in the big mission to mars series set a few years back you could shoot the aliens around in little capsules inside tubes

  • "So, in closing, mono means one, and rail means rail."
  • These guys are running the stupidest scam ever. The third sentence on their homepage tells you how easy it will be to profit off their idea. The company can't be more than a bunch of ignorant tools looking for a good way to make some cash. Their premises are repulsively ridiculous, evacuating a tube does not permit virtually free transport, there are other losses there. And the maglev technology they speak of is hardly economical, feasible, or practical on a large scale. There are only a few maglev trains in the whole world, they've been around for awhile, and are incredibly expensive to operate, much less construct in the first place. These guys are saying they've invented this wonderful panacea to solve all our problems, but they have no idea what technology is required for their system, how much of that technology has never been developed, and how ridiculous it would be to attempt on such a large scale. Why don't they propose a national Disney-esque log ride for a transportation system! Better ideas have come from kindergarteners. My dog is smart enough to know how much this idea blows.
  • You wouldn't have to waste time to get to an airport - the terminal would be a neat little station a few minutes away.

    correct me if i am wrong but... wouldnt that be kind of a pain in the arse to stop every few minutes... I dont know if i quite grasp the concept, but that would add alot of travel time with acceleration and deceleration, and how do these things fit together? do they all connect? do they go to within a few minutes away to anywhere... hmmmm... sounds like a few bugs yet... I would think that there would need to be some sort of connecting transportation to the main system... I would think that these wouldn't be anygood for anything but, what i would call, interstate driving
  • I used to think about this a lot, for the following reason:
    Imagine if we had a tube at ground level going all the way around the Earth.

    If the tubes are vacuums, you can continually accelerate an object within them, since there is no terminal veolicity at constant acceleration the way there is from air. (At least at nonrelativistic speeds.)

    Now let's calculate what orbital speeds are at sea level. At sea level, if you start out with zero downward momentum, you fall less than 10 meters in 1 second. If during that time you shoot forward far enough in a straight line that the Earth's curviture lifts you 10 feet, you've achieved orbit. NASA gives [nasa.gov] the Earth's diameter at the equator as 12,756 KM. Now the following calculation is REALLY easy using a diagram, but a bit tricky to describe. It uses only the pythagorean theorem.
    Draw a circle, and two radii, one due west, one appreciably north. Draw a tangent at the circumference where the westerly radius touches (tangents are at right angles with radii). Now extend the second radius until it touches the tangent line. You should have a triangle whose hypotenuse is 12,756 KM + 10 M, of which one leg is 12,756 KM, and the other leg unknown. The other leg (along the tangent line) represents how much we need to move forward in 1 second, and we calculate it by taking the square root of the difference between 12,756.01 squared and 12,756 squared.
    This number is 15.972. In other words, by MY calculation (I'm fresh out of high school though, so YMMV), orbiting at sea level requires you to go 15.972 miles in a single second. Compare that with the Space shuttle's "velocity of 27,880 km per hour" (/3600 seconds-per-hour) = 7.744. In other words, at an altitude of 322 KM, it can take nearly twice as long fall the same amount, which is explained by lower value of acceleration-due-to-gravity at that height. (Repeating our calculations above, substituting 12,756+322 for 12,756, we get sqrt( (12756+322+0.01)^2 - (12756+322)^2 ) = 16.172 KM, versus the 15.972 we had at ground level. However, to cover the same 10 feet, it now has a longer time to fall.

    ANYWAY, the upshot of all this is that if you can accelerate something to 15.972 KM/s or (57,499.2 KM/h or (x0.62) 35,649 miles per hour, it will coast its way along without needing anything under it, and without consuming further gas.

    This could be a really great way to deliver packages.
    Draw a circumference at sea level that goes through a lot of interesting places, lay down a vacuum line (it doesn't actually need to support anything!! All it needs to do is be thin plastic that holds its shape at 1 atmosphere crush) all around it, then start this huge, heavy monolithic Delivery Bird sailing around at 35,649 mph, reaching every point along your line every fifteen minutes. I'm not sure how you get packages (including passengers) on and off the thing, but it sure sounds cool.

    So, in conclusion, it's too cool to work.
    • This number is 15.972. In other words, by MY calculation (I'm fresh out of high school though, so YMMV), orbiting at sea level requires you to go 15.972 miles in a single second.

      Not a bad way to do this calculation, if you don't have access to calculus and the like. Unfortunately, your answer is wrong, because the radius of the Earth is a touch under 7000 kilometers, not 13000 as you claim.

      An easier way to do this would be to remember that the centripetal force required to keep an object with mass m moving in a circular orbit of radius r and speed v is just m*v^2/r. Equate that to the force of gravity at sea level and you have that:

      v^2 = g*r

      Just think of gravity as being the "string" that keeps the satellite in its circular path. At sea level, this works out to 8.3 km/sec or thereabouts. Incidentally, it can be shown that the minimum escape velocity is just this number multiplied by the square root of two.

      Cheers,

      Mouser

  • Doesn't this seem like a more technologically advanced version of the Pneumatique, the air driven subway system that operated briefly in NYC a bit over a century ago? Only instead of the air being used to force the cars through the tunnel, it's removed to reduce friction... Still a bit on the nuts side, imagine what would happen in the event of a derailment (explosive decompression, anyone?), and of course maintaining the vacuum in the tunnel itself...

    What would be more logical, however, would be to simply evacuate the air on one side of the car, to provide propulsion, making the train almost silent...
  • Problems (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @03:59AM (#4587163) Homepage Journal
    This is a really cool idea. However, although I am sure the technique works, I wonder how feasable it is in Real Life. A number of reservations I have:

    1. Cost. How much will it cost to put down those tubes everywhere, keep them vacuum, maintain them, etc? How much does it cost to manufacture a vehicle for this system? Is this all going to be cheaper than driving an automobile (especially in countries with lower fuel prices)?

    2. Popularity. Although I don't know the situation in the rest of the world, I know that in Holland people prefer going to work by car over going there by train even if trains are cheaper, faster, more comfortable, safer, better for the environment, don't have parking problems, and allow them to do some work or socialize while traveling. For some, this goes even if the train stops just as close or even closer to work than they could part their cars.

    3. Usefulness. A transportation system is only useful if it gets you where you want to go. How precise this needs to be depends on the distance traveled and the frequency of the visits to this destination. The greater the distance, and the lower the frequency, the more willing people are to use additional means of trasnportation to get to their destination. Since it would probably be impossible for this system to achieve anywhere near the granularity of the road infrastructure, it's use is probably for longer distances. There, it competes with cars, trains, and aircraft. This syste will never be able to beat the flexibility of cars, nor the speed of aircraft. Trains are higly impopular with travelers. What niche will this system occupy?

    Just some thoughts...

    ---
    Caution: breathing may be hazardous to your health.
  • Boring holes through the ground is expensive. Laying train track (or vacuum vessels, as it were) is expensive. Purchasing turnstiles, escalators, and elevators is expensive. Paying personnel is *very* expensive. In contrast, the energy needed to run a train (or vacuum "train") is dirt cheap. Therefore, this project is barking up the wrong tree.
  • The automobile became the worlds most popular form of transportation for one reason...it goes where you want it to go, when you are ready to go there.

    The idea of public transporation is a joke. Busses and trains never really go where you want to go...and if they do, they are late getting there. Most public transporation is very uncomfortable, inconvenient and expensive, which is why 90% of the world doesn't use it.

    We should spend more time and energy making private transporation more efficient, environmentally friendly, and enjoyable....not waste time and resources (public and private) on the failed idea of public transporation.

    -ted
  • Swissmetro (Score:4, Informative)

    by de la mettrie (27199) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @05:42AM (#4587320)
    Exactly this concept of transportation has been under consideration in Switzerland for a long time under the name Swissmetro [swissmetro.com]. The idea is to link the major population centers together, creating in effect a single country-wide city. The technology is ready to build the demonstration track from Geneva to Lausanne (~30 km), but so far, the government and the Federal Assembly have been unwilling to shell out the CHF 1.5 bio (about /$ 1 bio) required to do it. Go hither [imhefwww.epfl.ch] for a cool simulation video or thither [laiwww.epfl.ch] for technical details, or even yonder [leiwww.epfl.ch] for the math.
  • by nofud (238832) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @06:10AM (#4587375) Homepage
    This concept has been looked in for the last 20 years in Switzerland under the name of "Swissmetro".

    A quick summary of it here [laiwww.epfl.ch].

    The most complete analysis of the project I've seen here [www.strc.ch].

    Basically, it's probably doable, but the major roadblock is a VERY strong political support (even in a very pro-mass transit country like switzerland), because of the massive costs to validate the faisability of it. In Switzerland, that support has not materialized in the last 20 years.

  • My idea... (Score:5, Funny)

    by weave (48069) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @07:20AM (#4587478) Journal
    OK, here's my great idea. Bore a tunnel from one side of the planet to another, right through the center of the earth. Travel vehicle is held on one end by being clamped. When vehicle is full of people, it is just let go and gravity pulls it up to full speed until it passes the center, then gravity slows it back down until it reaches other side of planet. Only a small amount of energy would be required to pull it back up to the surface for the remaining little bit of distance.

    OK, you're all skeptical. Here's the FAQ from my investment prospectus.

    • What about all that hot shit in the center of the earth? The center of the earth is hollow. The propoganda saying different is the auto and air industry backed scientists who are afraid of my invention.
    • What if there are living creatures down there? Won't some federal agency or greenies try to stop the project? We have that covered in our "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Anything in the way of the boaring machine will silently be dealt with if it's too stupid to get out of the fuckin way.
    • What if there is a failure of the system, like the docking clamps fail? The system will be the safest form of transportation and we don't anticipate any failures. However, in that unlikely event, the unit would drop and we'd need to catch it when it comes up the other end. Failing that, it'd like bounce back and forth until coming to rest at the center of the earth. If that happened, the occupants would have to evacuate the unit and walk up to the surface via an exit staircase. The unit would then be destroyed and the debris would be swept out by a service "brick" vehicle that would be dropped to clear it out. All affected passengers would be given a free ticket for a future ride if they survive the walk to the surface.
  • by p3d0 (42270) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @10:30AM (#4587779)
    Subway collisions happen every so often. Thankfully, they are rare, but they happen.

    Imagine if two of these pressurized cars collide, and their seals break. All their air would escape into the tube, and any passengers that survived the impact would suffocate in a fairly gruesome Total-Recall-like manner.

    The safety section of their FAQ doesn't even address this.

  • by lesterhv (125530) on Sunday November 03, 2002 @11:10AM (#4587942) Homepage
    They have no intention of building anything, just make money for their shareholders from tha patents. And this encourages innovation? All it does is put a roadblock against someone who really wants to build it.

    From their site ("company summary" page)

    Our aim is to generate returns for our shareholders by acting now to acquire control of important blocks of intellectual property (patents and trade secrets) in the ETT field. We currently own the patent and trade secret rights to Evacuated Tube Transport, the first practical evacuated tube transport technology. We believe that these ultra efficient and environmentally benign systems, will become key components of numerous future worldwide transport systems. ET3.COM INC. intends to take full advantage of the generic nature of this unique technology by securing the intellectual property rights on the lion's share of all specific applications, new devices, and novel systems issuing from it. Management also believes that we are well positioned to gain control of other major intellectual property by developing new patents and trade secrets through our own internal efforts and by developing patent-exploitation agreements for the patents and trade secrets belonging to others.

Never test for an error condition you don't know how to handle. -- Steinbach

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