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NASA Transportation Science

'Pocket Airports' Would Link Neighborhoods By Air 257

Posted by timothy
from the visibility-5-miles-no-problem dept.
cylonlover writes "NASA's light-aircraft partner, CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency), is running a competition to design a low-cost, quiet, short take-off personal aircraft, that requires little, if any, fossil fuel. It envisions the resulting Suburban Air Vehicles taking off and landing at small neighborhood 'pocket airports.' At last week's Future of Electric Vehicles conference, CAFE president Dr. Brien Seeley outlined just how those airports would work."
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'Pocket Airports' Would Link Neighborhoods By Air

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  • interesting (Score:5, Funny)

    by zmollusc (763634) on Friday December 17, 2010 @03:05AM (#34584608)

    Electric power might be a contender here, as you could use the 3 hours you will spend being x-rayed, swabbed, fingerprinted and cavity-searched before each flight to charge the battery.

    • Re:interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

      by WarJolt (990309) on Friday December 17, 2010 @03:09AM (#34584618)

      Funny thing is most general aviation airports can be accessed without even seeing a security guard.

  • Hey Baby... can I land my SAV in your pocket airport?
  • The first thing I thought of when I saw SAVs is soccer mom's crashing into light poles.

    • by BeanThere (28381)

      These will be mostly fly-by-wire auto-pilot systems, with control systems to create virtual "roadways" in the air. The tech to do that is old already, it's the mechanical design that needs to catch up to make these things viable on a large scale. Yes there will be accidents, but it will most likely be safer than motor vehicles normalized 'per hour in the vehicle'.

  • Already 2 834 airports nationwide with no scheduled passenger flights:

    Federal funding at its finest [usatoday.com]

  • by whereiswaldo (459052) on Friday December 17, 2010 @03:17AM (#34584680) Journal

    I sometimes marvel at the size of a single road intersection: some of them are many times larger than an average person's yard!
    Imagine how much land could be saved if we didn't have to dedicate so much of it to roads. I'm not sure that's what they're claiming but the thought is tantalizing.

    FTA:
    “The gridlock we face now is going to get worse,” Seeley stated, citing research into congestion on the world’s roads. “This is a form of insanity... We need to travel in 3D.”

    Wishing more jobs offered work-at-home options! That would certainly help.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      I don't think a lack of space is the problem in the US, it is that everyone wants to live in the same place because then they are nearer to services, work, shopping and so forth. If you could make getting from less populated areas into cities faster and cheaper then people could spread out more.

      We have similar issues in the UK made worse by NIMBYs, but the same basic problem exists.

      • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Friday December 17, 2010 @05:58AM (#34585304)
        "If you could make getting from less populated areas into cities faster and cheaper then people could spread out more."

        That's exactly what cars did. They lead to the birth of the suburbs, allowing people to live in places of moderate population density while having the advantages of a major city within easy traveling distance. The problem now is that this model is a victim of it's own success: The car-enabled suburb model has reached the limit of scaling without a radical redesign.
      • by rastilin (752802)
        I agree that everyone wants to live in the same place is a problem; however I think the main place they want to live is suburbia. People want lots of room, and then they need the roads to get to their jobs, stores and other things that are really far away from where they live. This might be different where you live, but that's the situation here. Research even shows that people's happiness is influenced more by the length of their commutes than how much space they have at home past a given area of space. Th
    • by ensignyu (417022)

      Look at the parking lot of a large mall on Google Maps. You could probably fit dozens or hundreds of homes there. A single parking structure takes up as much space as an office building.

      And parking structures aren't cheap, either, at around $15,000-$20,000 per parking space.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Friday December 17, 2010 @03:27AM (#34584708) Journal

    Any mechanic who works for a roadside service company can tell you that peoples cars "break down" for the oddest reasons. Not enough petrol, wrong fuel, forgot to put in oil. All sorts of stuff that simply has to be maintained and replaced and doesn't leading to failure. Running out of petrol with your car is embarrising, running out of fuel in your airplane makes you a lawn dart or worse. I don't particularly care if some soccer-mom with the IQ of a weasel (sorry weasels) gets herself killed along with her kids. But if she crashes into my house, I would get upset.

    What about the weather? Snow is bringing down europe but a car caught in a snow storm just becomes stuck. An aircraft? Has to divert. How far? Small airplane, small fuel tank. Can you imagine 100 soccer mom's lining up for an icy runway when they can barely park a car in summer on an empty lot? Or for that matter the business exec who thinks his beamer is a snow mobile and plows into a lamp post? Now that lamp post will be your apartment building.

    As for controlling so many aircraft, LA airport is already uncontrollable and happily parked an airliner on a small jet years ago and things haven't got much better. Can you imagine a 100 or more increase in traffic figures? And if trained pilots from other countries already cause dangerous situations because they don't speak English, what will happen if hillbillies take to the air?

    Just walk the street someday and notice for fun just how many cars stall for some reason or another. Oh it is not 1 per minute, but 1 per week would already cause a number of light aircraft accidents to severly burden the coffin industry. Would you step into a one-engined airliner?

    No, someday we may have the tech AND the discipline but right now, the idea of the average road user in the air would have me make my next house a bunker, a deep one. SUV's in the sky... somethings just shouldn't be.

    • by Loki_666 (824073)

      Have to agree with this. Who will be the first to afford them? Of course, the rich who already drive on the roads in their SUVs like they own the roads and generally behave like complete pricks. Imagine letting these brain dead idiots fly?

    • by Chatsubo (807023)

      When people started talking about flying cars the same stuff came up and the response is... Don't let Joe Soap fly it, make a computer do it.

      You have to be reasonable here, either Joe has the capacity to qualify for a PPL (significantly harder than getting your license at the DMV), or you don't require a PPL, and have a machine fly the thing. This has positives like, no need for crazy-busy traffic control if the planes can talk to each other.

      The only PROBLEM I see with that is a failure which will REQUIRE t

      • Also I imagine anything of this kind pretty much has to be VTOL. Anything else is simply too complicated and too computationally difficult when it comes to air traffic control and landing procedures, as the GP points out.

        • by afidel (530433)
          You do realize with DGPS that planes can take off, fly, and land themselves *today*, right? In fact they could and did do it 10 years ago. The only reason the pilot is there is to make you feel good and to take over in the .001% of cases where the flight is not routine.
      • If the engineering problems of having the thing actually fly were solved, I'd use some form of optical tracking for landing.

        1. Passanger gets in.
        2. Passanger enters his destination.
        3. Computer checks fuel, engine condition, etc. Gets clearance from the central controller for a route, reserves it's landing pad at the destination.
        4. Computer takes off.
        5. Computer flies via GPS to approximate destination.
        6. Computer uses downwards-pointing camera to locate landing pad - it would look like a giant square
      • by Pharmboy (216950)

        You have to be reasonable here, either Joe has the capacity to qualify for a PPL...

        Or they dumb down the test claiming that the requirements for these "new" vehicles is too high, the computers do most of the work, etc. Look at the current requirements for getting a car license, and yet watch the people put on make up, text, talk and other activities that make them dangerous. The larger the number of people flying, the larger the percentage that are doing stupid crap instead of paying attention.

        And if GM s

        • by Dekker3D (989692)

          Gaining altitude costs energy, but you have less friction and won't need to brake as much as you need to do in a car. Also, hills.

    • by theNAM666 (179776)

      I love naysayers-- especially those who don't know what the frak they're talking about. FUD FUD FUD! Fortunately, Mr. Guillotine invented a most clever device, particularly appropriate for people such as the author of the FUD above. Would the author care to provide a meatspace address?

    • You could probably resurface after a couple of years. Selective pressure would have turned what is left of humanity into ace pilots. (And very fast runners.)

    • According to the article, these airports will operate air taxis. Therefore, it's not your soccer mom / senior / hillbilly.
      It's a trained professional who could be subjected to periodic checkups and high fines.
      Surely, taxi drivers aren't that better (many times worse) than the average driver, but in this case they might have to pass higher criteria than most.

  • No way (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Friday December 17, 2010 @03:30AM (#34584734)

    In our current political climate, there's no way Homeland Security would allow this to work in a manner any reasonable person would consider useful - it'd get "managed" and "secured" to death. You think airport delays are ridiculous - just think about the delays seen in these pocket airports because every commuter in your area needs to be scanned/groped before being allowed to start their commute.

    • There is no major reason for security checks if you are flying a small plane by yourself. If you crash it into a building it wouldn't be any worse than crashing a car into it. In commercial flights, you have the potential to kill 100s or 1000s of people if you manage to bring it down, while in a small plane you will most likely only kill yourself.

      • by zmollusc (763634)

        True, the same reasoning is why you don't need safety checks, insurance or a licence to operate a motorcycle.

        • by quadrox (1174915)

          As a non US citizen I don't know how to interpret this.

          Is parent in fact correct, or is he too stupid to realize the difference between security checks and a pilots license, and a license to drive a motorcycle?

      • There is no major reason for security checks if you are flying a small plane by yourself. If you crash it into a building it wouldn't be any worse than crashing a car into it. In commercial flights, you have the potential to kill 100s or 1000s of people if you manage to bring it down, while in a small plane you will most likely only kill yourself.

        Well....

        Especially if you're doing it deliberately, but even if you're just wreckage falling out of the sky, odds are that your top speed in an aircraft is going to be appreciably higher than then one you can readily reach on a city street (or accelerating across the parking lot or driveway). And kinetic energy scales with the square of velocity. A deliberate attacker would also be able to load his aircraft with explosives (or even just compressed gas cylinders).

        Meanwhile, the barrier precautions and

  • 3D travel today! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Friday December 17, 2010 @03:35AM (#34584750)

    "The gridlock we face now is going to get worse," Seeley stated, citing research into congestion on the world's roads. "This is a form of insanity... We need to travel in 3D."

    Hmm let's see: some form of transportation to link neighborhoods, that works in 3D, to relieve gridlocks? Remove the insane flying-vehicle thing, make it cheap and practical, and you've got yourself a metro.

    Instead of dreaming up shit like this, policymakers should bring back light-rail, which can work under or over streets, carries a great deal of people quickly, silently and without local air pollution, and doesn't cost a lot.

    • by zmollusc (763634)

      Where do you get the quick, silent, cheap light rail systems from? All the ones I have seen are none of those.

    • Hmm let's see: some form of transportation to link neighborhoods, that works in 3D, to relieve gridlocks? Remove the insane flying-vehicle thing, make it cheap and practical, and you've got yourself a metro.

      The problem is, once you remove the "insane flying-vehicle thing", you also remove a dimension - a metro is a 2D system, not 3D. This also negates the primary advantage of a 3D system, the ability to travel directly from any arbitrary point in the network to another arbitrary point. In a 2D (metro) sys

      • - a metro is a 2D system, not 3D.

        Actually, most larger metro systems are 3d, with tunnels in varying depths, and lines happily crossing underneath or over each other

        In a 2D (metro) system you can only traveling to arbitrary nodes (assuming there is a station there) frequently requires changing trains or extended travel times.

        On a well designed system, you should be able to get from any station to any other one changing at most once. And frequency should be high enough that changing is not too time-consuming.

        the secondary problem being that it isn't actually generally all that convenient.

        The metro in Paris actually works quite well (when it is not on strike).

        • Actually, most larger metro systems are 3d, with tunnels in varying depths, and lines happily crossing underneath or over each other.

          So are roads, and canals, and pretty much every other form of transportation ever invented. (Or in other words, the swooshing sound you heard was my point going over your head.) But even though you have tunnels in 3D, the *vehicles* travel in *2D*. You cannot depart the plane defined by the track, you cannot use the third dimension to avoid other traffic or to travel in an

    • Hmm let's see: some form of transportation to link neighborhoods, that works in 3D, to relieve gridlocks? Remove the insane flying-vehicle thing, make it cheap and practical, and you've got yourself a metro.

      A Metro? Gloomy tunnels in which you will be robbed and knife- or gunpoint? Expensive underground construction work that strain the city's budget? And how do you evacuate people if there's a fire?

      No, you should prefer a tramway. It's much greener, and also affords you a nice view of the city. You should be proud of your public transportation, and show it in the open, rather than shamefully burying it underground!

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      Sayitsayitsayitsayit.... MONORAIL!
    • But public transport is COMMUNISM! :P

  • by goodmanj (234846) on Friday December 17, 2010 @03:46AM (#34584792)

    There is a fundamental difference between internal combustion engines and other technologies: they have *phenomenal* power-to-weight and energy-to-weight ratios.

    There is a fundamental difference between aircraft and other vehicles: if their power-to-weight ratio is too low, they do not fly. An underpowered car is an underpowered car, but an underpowered plane is not a plane.

    There is a reason why nobody invented a workable aircraft until 1905, and it's not because everybody who tried before the Wright brothers was an idiot.

    ==================
    Example:

    A set of lithium-ion batteries plus a modern electric motor of the type used in hybrid cars has a power-to-weight ratio of about 250 W/kg, and an endurance of 20-30 minutes at that power level. A small aircraft engine, including fuel tank, has a power-to-weight ratio of about 1000 W/kg, and an endurance of several hours.

    For most small passenger aircraft, if you increase the weight of the power system by a factor of four, they will be too heavy to get off the ground. (Example: Cessna Skycatcher, engine weight 100 pounds, "spare" weight limit with only the pilot aboard: 150 pounds)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cessna_162 [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power-to-weight_ratio#Electric_Motors.2FElectromotive_Generators [wikipedia.org]

    • No fossil fuel doesn't necessarily preclude internal combustion, or require batteries. Bio-diesel or nuclear are two options I can think of off the top of my head - although they come with their own slew of problems. That's why they're having a competition - so smart people can run headlong into these problems and take them out.

    • by BiggerIsBetter (682164) on Friday December 17, 2010 @05:35AM (#34585230)

      Once you're done pooh-poohing the idea of electric airplanes, go and use your google and wiki-fu to look up the following:
      * Yuneec e430 electric LSA
      * Sonex E-Flight
      * Cessna Skyhawk electric 172 POC

    • by theNAM666 (179776)

      Did you say idiot? Really? Familiar with the type, are you? Mirror nearby?

    • by AB3A (192265)

      Mod Parent Up!

      Another point: Even if power to weight ratios were improved significantly, as a private pilot, I have personally aborted many flight plans due to weather concerns. There are certain limiting issues such as weight and balance issues, engine performance at altitude, weather, maintenance, "Temporary" Flight Restrictions (some of them aren't so temporary), Runway availability, and so on...

      The fact is that even with today's technologies, helicopters and bush planes would have difficulties working i

  • I really wish something like this finally got off the ground: http://emdrive.com/ [emdrive.com] Microwaves in one end, thrust out the other.

    .

    Q. How can the EmDrive produce enough thrust for terrestrial applications?
    A. The second generation engines will be capable of producing a specific thrust of 30kN/kW. Thus for 1 kilowatt (typical of the power in a microwave oven) a static thrust of 3 tonnes can be obtained, which is enough to support a large car. This is clearly adequate for terrestrial transport applications.

    • For non-science majors, this can be compared to repulsorlifts in Star Wars. So while they cant really move anything, they can make stuff float. So a vehicle with one of these pointing downwards would float off the ground. Then a small jet or prop would propel it at speed.
    • by Eivind (15695)

      Don't hold your breath, that's a cranky non-physical machine that does not, and can not do, the things it claims to do.

      • I could dig up similar quotes about PC's, the airplane, electricity, the car; pretty much any tech that doesn't conform to the current version of "normal".
    • Very interesting, but I wouldn't place too much confidence in their ability to actually achieve that kind of thrust any time soon. What they're currently demonstrating, under lab conditions, is less than half a newton per kilowatt, or about one ten-thousandth of the amount needed to support a car. For comparison, you can get around 120 N/kW (240 times their current max thrust) right now with a simple ducted fan, readily available online [icare-rc.com]. The 30 kN/kW figure is an extrapolation based on the ridiculously high

      • Ok, but if such an amplification cavity exists and is in use, then why cant we use it? At least for proof of concept. Set it up, turn it on. If it shoots out the ceiling, yay. If not, oh well.
        While cars may be a pipe-dream for now, other things aren't.

        At a calculated 3+ tonnes a KW, that's a lot of lift. A large platform with several of these strapped to it would be able to float something into space or in to high atmospheric orbit.

        Launching a LEO rocket from the equator at 100,000 feet up takes a lot

  • by xtal (49134) on Friday December 17, 2010 @03:57AM (#34584844) Homepage

    A vastly better investment would be a multi-gigabit FTTH infrastructure to allow for actual tele-presence and remote working from the suburbs.

    Commuting is stupid, as is most business travel.

    • by Khyber (864651)

      This is what we need. We paid for it and we STILL don't have it.

    • Telepresence can run on a few mbps, isn't "multi-gigabit" a tad overkill for such a task? It seems theses problems are no longer technical, they are all motivational and/or political.
    • by AB3A (192265)

      Commuting may be stupid, but you still need to move goods from place to place in a timely fashion. The need for better transportation will always be there, whether humans ride it or not.

  • I think that personal flight is a fantastic idea and let's face it, we all would love to zip around the sky in our own private air capsule.
    I also think this can be managed, just not today.
    Location based tech is growing by leaps and bounds, but it's not quite accurate enough for air travel. Certainly when we are talking about 10's of thousands of private people in the sky over residential areas.

    That however, is not a good reason not to begin the ground work. People in my company always complain when we want

  • Because cars just aren't dangerous enough anymore.
  • Pocket Airports (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    What, like train stations?

  • One reason cars took off and rail remained the solution for freight is that cars can drive to different locations. What if someone made a rail network where the switches to different rails was done completely by computer? You get in your mini rail car, program your destination... Then the computer routes you to your destination... Everyone talks about the self driving car, but that technology is at least 10 years down the road. We could technologically roll out robo-rail in a year or two. We have all th
  • "...by the time travelers have made their way by ground to their city’s one main airport, and then traveled again by ground from the destination airport to their final destination point, the speed with which the waiting airliner will get them there has been negated.

    The author forgets to mention the TSA. 20 years ago, you could show up at the airport 30 minutes before you flight, and have plenty of time. It's now 90 minutes.

    The vision of small, efficient aircraft flying short distances is lovely. But

    • These things wouldn't need TSA, they are planned to be fully automous vehicles, assigned a route by central computer so that it doesn't intersect any other flight path, it's not like they are going to have a flight stick in the central console that you can assume manual control over. Even if you can find a way of directly controlling the flight of the plane, I suspect it would be trival to have a remote override to kill the engines and deploy the parachute.

      If you cannot control the vehicle, can't hurt anyon

  • According to the book DIA and Other Scams [goodreads.com], there was a plan in the 1930's to build a ring "beltway" around Denver -- in approximately the same area as the current C-470/E-470/NW Parkway, i.e. 25-mile diameter) -- that would be not for cars, but rather be a continuous take-off/landing strip for airplanes -- take-off and land anywhere.
  • The drivers where I live are so monumentally bad that they manage to flip their cars over on roads marked 30 mph, because ... I have no idea why really. They do this on clear days, cloudy days, warm days, cold days, dry days, rainy days, snow days, whatever. At lest they primarily harm only themselves when they are driving cars with less intelligence than a crippled hamster. If we allow them to fly aircraft...
  • by paiute (550198) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:10AM (#34585742)

    No, seriously, meet him. Head on, at about 5000 feet.

  • I've always thought that personal airplanes, while cool in theory, would be a nightmare in practice? Take a look at how some people drive now. Talking on their cell phones while munching down a McDonald's burger and fries, barely paying any attention to the road or other cars, while going 15 miles over the speed limit. Or texting to their friends about how some idiot in front of them won't get out of their way as they weave in and out of traffic. Check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XihQe

  • by Aquitaine (102097) <.gro.masmai. .ta. .mas.> on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:24AM (#34586686) Homepage

    As a student pilot near the end of his 40-45 hours' training for a private pilot certification, it's neat that people are thinking of stuff like this, but I can't see it ever happening -- at least, not as a solution to congestion.

    The nature of government control over any mass-market activity like driving is such that they become very bad at saying 'no' to the public. It's shamefully easy to get a driver's license. Not so for a pilot's license. I'm as much of an anti-government nut as you'll find on Slashdot, and while there are definitely parts of the FAA that I think are crazy, on the instruction and licensing side I've been very impressed with what I've seen. The FAA Pilot's handbook (the core 'textbook' for pilots) is well written and concise. The written tests have a few weird questions on them (like a couple on pre-1940 navigation systems) but for the most part are pretty challenging -- not the MADD-influenced DMV test with questions like 'You've just consumed nine beers. Calculate your BAC.' The 'final exam' of a pilot's license is the checkride, where you sit for up to a couple hours with an FAA examiner and demonstrate everything you have to know as a pilot, is nothing like the 'I'll be fine if I can parallel park' road test. A lot of very good flight instructors I've met admit to having failed either or both the written test or checkride on their first try. In other words, it's not designed so that a 16 year-old can pass it with a little bit of effort. It's designed to make sure you know wtf you are doing before you take off, and it includes sections on how airplane engines work, airplane instruments, airport signage, lighting, and traffic patterns, communicating with ATC, reading charts, understanding aviation weather (clouds, pressure, temperature, and density) and quite a lot about navigation.

    That's not to say that you can't strip down the curriculum for a more limited set of flight rules (and we do, in fact - 'sport pilots' only need half as many hours) but even becoming a sport pilot isn't easy, to say nothing of becoming a good one. Unless you live in a handful of places around the world where the weather is consistently clear without a lot of wind, air travel will never be reliable for a commuter. Are you going to spend 20 minutes checking aviation weather or calling in for a weather briefing every day before you go to work? And if you don't, what if it's clear where you depart but you run right into a weather system halfway there and can't see the ground (that'd need another 40 hours of training for your instrument rating to even be legal).

    There are definitely some things that could be done to lower the barriers of entry to aviation, and making a reliable, short-range VTOL that doesn't need AVGAS is certainly one of them. And I'm not trying to be elitist about flying, either, like it's some exclusive or impenetrable club -- it isn't. Most pilots I know encourage everybody else they know to at least take an intro flight, because there's really nothing like it. But even so, the national drop-out rate for flight school students is 80% (some recent AOPA study - don't have a link handy but Google it). It used to be that everyone thought 'oh, well, it's just expensive, people start and don't want to spend the money to finish.' That's not wrong but it's not the whole story. The study found that money wasn't the top reason for dropping out. People get intimidated and scared right around the point where they have to fly solo. They're nervous about talking to ATC. They're nervous about landing in a crosswind. They're uncomfortable in a tiny airplane. The quality of flight instructors is all over the map (another reason cited in the study); just about every CFI out there doesn't dream of being a CFI but is building up hours to try and get a job working for an airline or flying a corporate jet. That doesn't mean they don't know what they're doing, but it does mean that they're teaching because they have to and not because teaching is necessarily what they want.

    As much as I love aviation, I would sooner spend the money on what other posters have suggested - either a good public transit system or multi-gigabit FTTH infrastructure for telecommuting.

  • by FurtiveGlancer (1274746) <AdHocTechGuy AT aol DOT com> on Friday December 17, 2010 @12:45PM (#34588860) Journal

    An alternative to light rail with a reduced foot print would be Tethered Lighter Than Air (TLTA) craft. Essentially a low-weight-bearing monorail (or mono-cable) ground infrastructure would carry a tractor/tether system that would drive and direct an LTA craft. It would be an elevated sky-train that could descend (or be reeled in) to platforms for boarding/loading. The LTA craft could also sport solar cells as its upper surface in areas where that would be cost effective. This system could safely operate through wind conditions that would prohibit free flight. There would, of course, be wind gust limits for comfortable and safe operation. Rain, icing and snow don't present insurmountable problems for a ground powered system.

    The foregoing is copyrighted by me (c) 2010

  • by Tharsman (1364603) on Saturday December 18, 2010 @02:18PM (#34601020)
    Great, now I can enjoy erotic and arousing pat-downs on my way to pick up my date a couple miles away! :D

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