June 26, 2016

Rolls-Royce Predicts Robotic Ships Will Be on the Water by 2020

by @ 9:35 am. Filed under Cybernation, Green Industry, Mass Transit

By David Szondy


June 22, 2016 - In 2014, Rolls-Royce unveiled its vision of the robotic cargo ship of the future that it believes will become a reality by 2020. This week at the Autonomous Ship Technology Symposium 2016 in Amsterdam, the Rolls-Royce-led Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications initiative (AAWA) presented a white paper outlining what such autonomous vessels might be like and what hurdles stand between them and the open sea.

According to Rolls-Royce, the ships of the future will have as much in common with the ships of today as the Santa Maria has with HMS Queen Elizabeth. Without human crews, autonomous ships would operate under computer control aided by shore operators. The giant cargo vessels would look like surfaced whales with smooth decks (if they have decks) and no superstructures. They would also be eerily quiet as they glide along the sea lanes using eco-friendly engines.

How to get to this tomorrow is the topic of the AAWA white paper (PDF) developed by Rolls-Royce in conjunction with a consortium of partners, including Finferries, ESL Shipping, Tampere University of Technology, and Brighthouse Intelligence. Part of a €6.6 million (US$7.48 million) project that runs through 2017, it identifies the areas that need to be addressed and the problems that will need to be solved to create such ships, the business case for them, and how they might be integrated into conventional shipping.

One key point of the white paper is that there is no one-size-fits all solution to making an autonomous ship and nobody is going to just slap a black box on the bridge of an existing ship and hit the Go button. Such ships will appear gradually as the technology develops and, like many cloud-based systems, autonomous ships will need time to create a large database to draw from as many types of ships for many missions are built.

An element that all of these ships will have in common, according to the paper, is that they will be computer controlled with arrays of sensors that will include cameras, infrared systems, radar, lidar, microphones, sonar, and GPS. However, the tricky bit will be figuring out how to deal with all the bandwidth these require and whether they can operate in real time.

This is just one problem that would need to be solved, but AAWA says that the advantages of such ships would be potentially immense. Ships could be built without the need for crew quarters, deckhouse, lifeboats, or even decks. They would be much cheaper to build and operate and would carry more cargo. Ship design would be more flexible, human errors would be reduced, and the new technologies would provide new, disruptive business opportunities similar to those of Uber and Spotify in their fields.



June 2, 2016

Radical Structural Reform for California? Look at the Bank of North Dakota – It Soars Despite Oil Bust

By Ellen Brown

Solidarityeconomy.net via OpEd News

Despite North Dakota's collapsing oil market, its state-owned bank continues to report record profits. This article looks at what California, with fifty times North Dakota's population, could do following that state's lead.

May 3, 2016- In November 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported [1] that the Bank of North Dakota (BND), the nation's only state-owned depository bank, was more profitable even than J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. The author attributed this remarkable performance to the state's oil boom; but the boom has now become an oil bust [2], yet the BND's profits continue to climb. Its 2015 Annual Report [3], published on April 20th, boasted its most profitable year ever.

The BND has had record profits for the last 12 years, each year outperforming the last. In 2015 it reported $130.7 million in earnings, total assets of $7.4 billion, capital of $749 million, and a return on investment of a whopping 18.1 percent. Its lending portfolio grew by $486 million, a 12.7 percent increase, with growth in all four of its areas of concentration: agriculture, business, residential, and student loans.

By increasing its lending into a collapsing economy, the BND has helped prop the economy up. In 2015, it introduced new infrastructure programs to improve access to medical facilities, remodel or construct new schools, and build new road and water infrastructure. The Farm Financial Stability Loan was introduced to assist farmers affected by low commodity prices or below-average crop production. The BND also helped fund 300 new businesses.

Those numbers are particularly impressive considering that North Dakota has a population of only about 750,000, just half the size of Phoenix or Philadelphia. Compare that to California, the largest state by population, which has more than fifty times as many people as North Dakota.

What could California do with its own bank, following North Dakota's lead? Here are some possibilities, including costs, risks and potential profits.

Getting Started: Forming a Bank Without Cost to the Taxpayers

A bank can be started in California with an initial capitalization of about $20 million. But let's say the state wants to do something substantial and begins with a capitalization of $1 billion.



May 27, 2016

High-Tech: Dubai Unveils World’s First 3D-printed Office Building

by @ 5:52 am. Filed under Cybernation, High Design

After nearly a year in development, Dubai unveils an open-plan office constructed using an industrial 3D printer.

By Michelle Starr


May 25, 2016 - The use of 3D printing in architecture is still small as logistics are being ironed out, but a new proof of concept has just been unveiled. The 250-square-metre space (2,700 square foot) is what Dubai's Museum of the Future project is calling the world's first 3D-printed office building. China unveiled the world's first 3D printed office building and mansion in early 2015.

First announced in June 2015, the new building's purpose is to showcase the United Arab Emirates' commitment to innovation and looking to the future, and promote the UAE as a world leader in 3D printing.

"We implement what we plan and we pursue actions not theories. The rapidly changing world requires us to accelerate our pace of development as history does not recognize plans but achievements," Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said at the grand opening.

A 3D printer was used to print the building in a special cement mixture, layer by layer. In all, it took a total of 17 days to print the building at a cost of about $140,000, after which the interior and exterior design details were added.

One person was employed to monitor the 3D printer. Another seven people took care of the installation of building components on-site, and another 10 electricians and other specialists looked after the engineering. They represented a savings of 50 percent on normal labour costs.

The open plan office will initially house the Dubai Future Foundation temporarily. In addition to providing a workspace, it could also, in the future, be used to host exhibitions, workshops and other events.


May 10, 2016

High Design: Volvo’s Self-Driving Trucks Are Going Underground

by @ 9:21 am. Filed under Cybernation, High Design

The truck can operate fully autonomously both above and below ground

By Stu Robarts

Solidarityeconomy.net via Gizmag

May 9, 2016 - The truck can operate fully autonomously both above and below ground.

Not content with its plans to test autonomous cars on public roads in China and the UK, Volvo wants to test self-driving trucks in underground mines too. The Swedish carmaker has developed a fully autonomous construction truck that it says can work without supervision.

The truck has been developed in partnership with Saab-owned tech consultancy Combitech, as part of a research and development project. Member of Volvo's group executive board and chief technology officer Torbjörn Holmström says such vehicles could improve the productivity of businesses, as they can work round-the-clock without tiring, unlike human drivers.

"The Volvo Group has been conducting research into autonomous vehicles for several years and we are delighted to have already developed a solution that we believe will ultimately revolutionize the mining industry," explains Holmström. "We expect to be able to significantly increase our customers' productivity while at the same time improving fuel efficiency and safety."

The truck is fitted with GPS technology and LiDAR sensors, which continuously scan its surroundings. Using data from these sources, it is able to navigate fixed and moving obstacles, as well as operate fully autonomously both above and below ground.


May 7, 2016

Here Comes The Next Huge Wave Of Solar Panels

by @ 6:43 am. Filed under Green Energy, High Design, Solar, Technology

The U.S. solar industry has a bright future.

Casey Williams

Editorial Fellow, The Huffington Post

May 5, 2016 - The solar industry is booming. The millionth set of solar panels in the United States was installed sometime in the last two months, and industry leaders expect the number of solar-powered systems to double within two years.

That’s a huge deal, experts say. While solar still only makes up 1 percent of the country’s energy mix, the swift rise in solar capacity portends a bright future for an energy source that, less than 10 years ago, a leading solar tech scientist dismissed as “green bling for the wealthy.”

Just 30,000 residential solar installations dotted the country a decade ago. Since then, the cost of generating power from solar has dropped by over 70 percent. Falling production costs, combined with improvements in electricity storage and a decline in the number of coal-fired power plants, has fueled the industry’s breakneck growth, according to Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“The power sector is being turned on its head,” Resch told reporters on Wednesday. “The ones that land on their feet are the ones that figure out how to produce clean energy at scale.”

Most of the solar installations added over the last decade have been residential units like this one. 

The million-installation mark is just the latest milestone reached by the solar industry in recent months. In 2015, for the first time ever, the U.S. added more new energy capacity from solar than from natural gas. And in December, 2015, Congress extended the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which provides generous tax incentives for homeowners and businesses that install solar panels.

The industry’s rapid growth shows no signs of slowing.

“It’s entirely possible that over next five years solar could be single largest new source of electricity in the country,” Shayle Kann, senior vice president of research at GreenTech Media, told reporters.



April 28, 2016

Behind the Scenes at GE’s Future-Forward Factory


The new Advanced Manufacturing Works facility is now part of a campus that includes 1.7 million ...


Michael Franco


April 25, 2016 - The new Advanced Manufacturing Works facility is now part of a campus that includes 1.7 million square feet of factories, offices and labs (Credit: GE Power). View gallery (12 images)

It feels like a scene from a movie. I'm standing in the lobby of a brand-new research facility where video screens set in large circular stands beam the company's achievements from their high-res flat screens. Behind glass panels, engineers in slacks and button-down shirts are busy working lasers, monitoring a robot and generally doing engineer-like things. This is GE's brand-new Advanced Manufacturing Works (AMW) in Greenville, South Carolina. It's the company's first in the world and Gizmag got inside to take a sneak peek.

The facility cost US$73 million to build, and GE is planning on investing an additional $327 million into the space over the coming years. The goal of the site is to place researchers and designers in close proximity to manufacturers (the AMW is situated right next to a large GE manufacturing plant) to better improve efficiencies through new technologies and technological tweaks. The primary area in which all this tech is focused is on creating giant gas turbines for power plants around the world, although the facility does work on other projects such as wind turbines as well.

There were several key technologies showcased at the AMW grand opening on April 22. Here are a few.

3D Optical Scanner

When you're working with parts that involve natural gas and the generation of enormous amounts of energy, it's important to be precise. The 3D optical scanner at the AMW facility helps with that. The machine works by converting a video feed of a machine part into a series of coordinates, which essentially turns it into a computer model of what the part looks like. A color map is then created that highlights the difference between the actual part and its ideal design.

The system can read fluctuations from one-one-thousandth of an inch or less. "We can actually measure a new component, run it in an engine and then measure it again and you can see how it's changed," says John Lammas, GE's vice president of power generation.



February 16, 2016

Socialism in America Is Closer Than You Think

by @ 10:44 am. Filed under Economy


By Gar Alperovitz

February 11, 2016, The Nation

In 1970, the great liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith declared that the “Democratic Party must henceforth use the word ‘socialism.’ It describes what is needed.” Like many others, however, Galbraith largely dropped the subject in subsequent years. The response to Bernie Sanders’s insurgent presidential campaign, along with polls showing that large numbers of young people and minorities in America have a positive view of socialism, suggest that this once-forbidden concept may no longer be taboo.

More than 40 percent of Americans under the age of 30 view socialism favorably, according to the most recent YouGov poll. Positive responses among black Americans have ranged between 29 and 41 percent in recent surveys. A 2011 Pew Research Center poll that omitted the “undecided” option found that 49 percent of its young participants viewed socialism favorably.

The most obvious source of this sea change is the failure of traditional approaches to address the nation’s most pressing problems: growing inequality, poverty, economic insecurity, global warming, perpetual war, and the decay and violence visited on black communities. Side by side with the increasing concentration of wealth has been the ever more blatant exploitation of the political power that wealth confers on elites and major corporations, most obviously by the Koch brothers and their right-wing allies.

Widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo creates a climate receptive to sweeping change. But such a climate can also devolve into indifference or cynicism if clear alternatives are not presented. With that in mind, how might a practical and politically viable alternative to our current system actually be constructed? What would socialism look like in 21st-century America?

* * *

At the core of the traditional socialist argument has always been the judgment that democratic ownership of the nation’s wealth—and especially what Marx called the “means of production”—is essential. The question of ownership, however, has rarely been mentioned in conventional political debate. The traditional socialist idea of “nationalized industry” is beyond the pale, and the vast majority of progressives have so far avoided discussing alternatives to the statist socialist model.

Despite his self-definition as a democratic socialist, Sanders has offered what is essentially a strong liberal or social-democratic program of progressive taxation, financial regulation, single-payer healthcare, increased Social Security and income-support programs, and environmental regulation. Although he backs worker-owned companies, Sanders explicitly disavowed government ownership of businesses in his major theme-setting speech at Georgetown University last November.

The general argument for democratized ownership has always been much broader than simply capturing profits for social use.

At the same time, new resources have become available to support the construction of a serious alternative system—one that is “socialist” in content and vision, but also highly democratic and accountable in structure. It is a system that could become increasingly viable as Americans’ disillusionment with traditional strategies continues to grow.

In recent years, there has been a steady buildup of interest in new forms of democratized ownership. Worker-owned cooperatives, neighborhood land trusts, and municipal corporations all democratize ownership in one way or another, but they do so in decentralized rather than statist fashion. The trajectory of change is impressive. Examples of successful worker ownership range from Cooperative Home Care Associates in New York City to the Evergreen complex of solar, greenhouse, and laundry cooperatives in Cleveland. Mayors and city councils in places like Austin, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin; Richmond, California; and New York City have started to provide direct financial or technical support for these developments, suggesting a new nexus of political power.



January 10, 2016

China Wants to Replace Millions of Workers with Robots

by @ 1:30 pm. Filed under China, Cybernation, Socialism

At the World Robot Conference in Beijing, attendees watch an industrial robot write Chinese characters.

Why It Matters

China needs to increase production even as the wages of those working in manufacturing increase.

China needs advanced robotics to help balance its economic, social, and technological ambitions with continued growth.

By Will Knight

MIT Technology Review

Dec 7, 2015  - China is laying the groundwork for a robot revolution by planning to automate the work currently done by millions of low-paid workers.

The government’s plan will be crucial to a broader effort to reform China’s economy while also meeting the ambitious production goals laid out in its latest economic blueprint, which aims to double per capita income by 2020 from 2016 levels with at least 6.5 percent annual growth. The success of this effort could, in turn, affect the vitality of the global economy.

The scale and importance of China’s robot ambitions were made clear when the vice president of the People’s Republic of China, Li Yuanchao, appeared at the country’s first major robotics conference, held recently in Beijing. Standing onstage between two humanoid entertainment robots with outsized heads, Li delivered a message from China’s leader, Xi Jinping, congratulating the organizers of the effort. He also made it clear that robotics would be a major priority for the country’s economic future.

Many of the robots on show at the conference’s exhibition hall were service or entertainment robots such as automated vacuum cleaners, cheap drones, or quirky looking machines designed to serve as personal companions. But there were also many industrial robots that signaled the real impetus for China’s robot push: its manufacturing sector.

China is already the world’s largest producer of everything from clothes to electronics, but much of it depends on low-cost, low-skill labor. And even as economic growth has slowed, wages continue to rise across the country as the economy evolves. The Chinese government is also eager to see its workforce diversify and its manufacturing industries become more technologically advanced.



January 6, 2016

High Design in UK Mass Transit: Why Must the US Bring Up the Rear?

by @ 12:53 pm. Filed under High Design, Mass Transit, Urban Problems

Upcoming Crossrail trains will get customers online when they're on the line

The new Crossrail trains will be 200-m (656-ft) long and will accommodate up to 1,500 passengers

The new Crossrail trains will be 200-m (656-ft) long and will accommodate up to 1,500 passengers (Credit: Transport for London)

Image Gallery (4 images)

By Stu Roberts


Nov 23, 2015 - The trains for the UK's new Crossrail rail link have been unveiled. They will be over one-and-a-half times as long as London's longest Tube train and will accommodate 1,500 passengers. Features will include regenerative braking, intelligent lighting and temperature systems, and free Wi-Fi and 4G access.

The 118-km (73-mile) Crossrail route is said to be Europe's biggest construction project, boasting 10 new stations and 42 km (26 miles) of new tunnels. Tunneling was completed earlier this year and much of the excavated 6 million tonnes (6.6 million tons) of material has been used to develop the Wallasea Island nature reserve in Essex. The project still has a number of milestones to deliver, though, such as fitting out stations, the completion of above-ground works and, of course, the roll-out of the new trains.

Designed by Transport for London (TfL), Bombardier and Barber & Osgerby, the 200-m (656-ft) trains will be driver-operated and will comprise nine fully-interconnected walk-through carriages. TfL says they are to be built of strong and lightweight materials, such as aluminum for the body shell. It also says they will be faster than the trains they will replace, while using up to 30 percent less energy as a result of their regenerative braking.

Boarding and alighting will be made quicker and easier by virtue of large, clear areas around the doors. Once aboard, passengers have a choice of both metro-style and bay seating. There will be four dedicated wheelchair spaces on each train, as well as a number of multi-use spaces for items like strollers and luggage. Passengers will be able plan their onward journeys using real-time travel information displayed by on-board info systems and will also benefit from free Wi-Fi and access to 4G.

The interior design and color scheme of the trains is said to have been chosen to provide "an accessible and welcoming environment." The design makes use of darker floors and natural finish materials that will "wear in, and not wear out," as well as light colored ceilings that are aimed at providing a sense of spaciousness.

The new trains are scheduled to enter service from May 2017, with the full Crossrail route due to be operational from 2019.


December 31, 2015

Revolution in the Productive Forces: 3-d Printing

by @ 11:42 am. Filed under High Design, Science, Technology

Researchers create world's first 3D-printed jet engines


The world's first 3D-printed jet engine on display at the Avalon International Airshow (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)

The world's first 3D-printed jet engine on display at the Avalon International Airshow (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)

Image Gallery (11 images)


  • Ben Coxworth , Gizmag
  • February 25, 2015

Working with colleagues from Deakin University and CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), researchers from Australia's Monash University have created the world's first 3D-printed jet engine. While they were at it, they created the world's second one, too. One of them is currently on display at the International Air Show in Avalon, Australia, while the other can be seen at the headquarters of French aerospace company Microturbo, in Toulouse.

A team from the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing and spin-off company Amaero started with an older gas turbine engine contributed by Microturbo (Safran). Still in working order, the small engine was used for auxiliary power in aircraft such as the Falcon 20 business jet.

Led by Prof. Xinhua Wu, the team proceeded to take the engine apart, and scan all the individual components. Using computer models obtained from those scans, a laser was then utilized to selectively melt metal alloy powder, building up two copies of each component in successive layers. When those parts were subsequently assembled, two metal replicas of the original engine were produced.



December 10, 2015

Trump’s Demagoguery Threatens Democracy Itself

by @ 10:00 am. Filed under Economy

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Oskaloosa, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

By Chip Berlet

Daliy KOS

Dec. 10, 2015 - Now is the time for blunt talk. Donald Trump is a dangerous demagogue generating "scripted violence." Trumpism threatens not just the First Amendment but democracy itself. I call him a right-wing populist using fascistic rhetoric to target scapegoated groups. Other journalists and scholars have dubbed him a fascist or a totalitarian. But we all smell the stench of the burning bodies. So let us have our terminological debates, but setting aside all intellectual disagreements, as citizens of an increasingly unfree society, we must stand up and speak out.

The First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion, and that includes the right to call religion ridiculous. It protects devout Roman Catholics and those in the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster--even those who sometimes wear colanders as hats. Over at Talk to Action. where I often blog, we are nonpartisan, welcome respectful contributions discussing human, civil, and constitutional rights, and find debates between theists and atheists annoying (no trolls blasting either are allowed). Democracy is what we cherish...and it is in trouble.

Some early studies of prejudice, demonization, and scapegoating treated the processes as marginal to “mainstream” society and an indication of an individual pathological psychological disturbance. More recent social science demonstrates that demonization is a habit found across various sectors of society among people who are no more prone to mental illness than the rest of society.

Philosopher Hannah Arendt taught us that ordinary people can become willing--even eager--participants in brutality and mass murder justified by demonization of scapegoated groups in a society

Lawrence L. Langer raises this as a troubling issue regarding the Nazi genocide:

“The widespread absence of remorse among the accused in postwar trials indicates that we may need...to accept the possibility of a regimen of behavior that simply dismisses conscience as an operative moral factor. The notion of the power to kill, or to authorize killing of others, as a personally fulfilling activity is not appealing to our civilized sensibilities; even more threatening is the idea that this is not necessarily a pathological condition, but an expression of impulses as native to ourselves as love and compassion.”

A troubling concept--that some of us who helped jumpstart the Talk to Action website have discussed for decades--is that when most people in a society realize that a fascist movement might actually seize state power, it is too late to stop it. So let us act now: as Republicans, Democrats, Independents and the folks who think voting just encourages a corrupt system. As people of faith, the spiritual, the agnostic, and those who think that God is Dead because she doesn’t exist. We are all in the same lifeboat here. Grab an oar.

Facing History and Ourselves reminds us of the “Fragility of Democracy” in a series of essays by Professor Paul Bookbinder, an international expert on the Weimar Republic in Germany in the period just before that nation collapsed into the inferno of Nazi rule and genocide. No, we do not face a crisis like that faced by the German people in the 1920s and 1930s. Yet as Bookbinder observes, there were moments when Hitler’s thugs could have been stopped.

In her small yet powerful book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt concluded that evil was banal, and that if there was one clear universal truth, it is that ordinary people have a moral obligation to not look away from individual or institutional acts of cruelty or oppression. We recognize the processes that lead from words to violence, they are well-studied, and the theories and proofs are readily available. Silence is consent. Denial is complicity with evil.

Chip Berlet, an activist involved with building democracy and human rights for over 50 years, is an investigative journalist and independent scholar whose blog is Research for Progress. This post first appeared on Talk to Action.


December 5, 2015

Uruguay Makes Dramatic Shift to Nearly 95% Electricity from Clean Energy

by @ 9:12 am. Filed under Green Energy, Solar, Wind Power

Wind turbine blades are assembled on the ground at a wind farm in Uruguay…Renewables now provide 94.5% of Uruguay’s electricity. Photograph: Mariana Greif Etchebehere/Bloomberg/Getty Images

In less than 10 years the country has slashed its carbon footprint and lowered electricity costs, without government subsidies. Delegates at the Paris summit can learn much from its success

Jonathan Watts in Montevideo
The Guardian /UK

Dec 3 2015 - As the world gathers in Paris for the daunting task of switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy, one small country on the other side of the Atlantic is making that transition look childishly simple and affordable.

In less than 10 years, Uruguay has slashed its carbon footprint without government subsidies or higher consumer costs, according to the country’s head of climate change policy, Ramón Méndez.

In fact, he says that now that renewables provide 94.5% of the country’s electricity, prices are lower than in the past relative to inflation. There are also fewer power cuts because a diverse energy mix means greater resilience to droughts.

It was a very different story just 15 years ago. Back at the turn of the century oil accounted for 27% of Uruguay’s imports and a new pipeline was just about to begin supplying gas from Argentina.

Now the biggest item on import balance sheet is wind turbines, which fill the country’s ports on their way to installation.

Biomass and solar power have also been ramped up. Adding to existing hydropower, this means that renewables now account for 55% of the country’s overall energy mix (including transport fuel) compared with a global average share of 12%.

Despite its relatively small population of just 3.4 million, Uruguay has earned a remarkable amount of global kudos in recent years. It enacted groundbreaking marijuana legalisation, pioneered stringent tobacco control, and introduced some of the most liberal policies in Latin America on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Now, it is being recognised for progress on decarbonising its economy. It has been praised by the World Bank and the Economic commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the WWF last year named Uruguay among its “Green Energy Leaders”, proclaiming: “The country is defining global trends in renewable energy investment.”



December 1, 2015

Public Works: How The Clinton and Sanders Infrastructure Plans Measure Up

By Dave Johnson

Campaign for America’s Future

“Investing in infrastructure makes our economy more productive and competitive across the board.”
– Hillary Clinton

Dec 1, 2015 - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has announced a plan for infrastructure investment. How does her plan stack up against that of her chief competitor, Bernie Sanders?

Also, how will Clinton and Sanders pay for their plans? On that question, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently came up with a set of principles we can use to judge this.

Clinton’s Infrastructure Plan

Clinton on Monday announced a plan for investing in infrastructure improvements. Meteor Blades laid out the need for infrastructure investment at Daily Kos in “Clinton proposes $275 billion spending for infrastructure“:

… 11 percent of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient and a fourth of them are functionally obsolete. Similar deficiencies can be found in schools, dams, levees, railroads, the electrical grid, and wastewater facilities. In its 2013 quadrennial report card on U.S. infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers said the nation would need to invest an additional $1.6 trillion by 2020 to put its infrastructure into good repair. And that doesn’t include innovative infrastructure like universal broadband.

Clinton’s infrastructure plan is detailed at her website in “Hillary Clinton’s Infrastructure Plan: Building Tomorrow’s Economy Today.” Here is a distillation:

? $250 billion dollars in infrastructure investment, spread out over five years as additional spending of $50 billion each year.

? An additional one-time $25 billion to seed a national infrastructure bank. The bank will support up to an additional $225 billion in direct loans, loan guarantees, and other forms of credit enhancement. These are loans to states and cities which will require tolls, fees, etc. to pay off.

? Spending priorities include “smart investments in ports, airports, roads, and waterways”; “giving all American households access to world-class broadband and creating connected ‘smart cities'”; “building airports and air traffic control systems”; “a smart, resilient electrical grid”; “safe and reliable sources of water”; “a national freight investment program”; “upgrade our dams and levees to improve safety and generate clean energy”; safe, smart roads and highways that are ready for the connected cars of tomorrow” and “the new energy sources that will power them.”

? A promise of “a faster, safer, and higher capacity passenger rail system.” But the plan does not mention high-speed rail. (Note that a single high-speed rail system from Los Angeles to San Francisco is expected to cost up to $60 billion, which alone is almost one-fourth of Clinton’s entire five-year infrastructure investment for all infrastructure needs.)

Sanders’ Infrastructure Plan

Clinton’s $275 billion infrastructure plan offers modest spending and contains few specifics. Contrast that with candidate Bernie Sanders, who has proposed a highly detailed, $1 trillion plan.



November 10, 2015

Transforming Cities: Baltimore to DC in 15 Minutes.

by @ 2:15 pm. Filed under High Design, High-Speed Rail, Mass Transit


Maglev Train in Shanghai

Maglev Train in Shanghai

Maryland's Maglev Train Gets First Round Of Federal Funding


By Mary Beth Griggs

Popular Science 

For the past forever, high-speed rail in the United States has existed as a sugarplum dream, sweet to think about, but dissolving instantly upon contact with reality. One of the sweetest and fastest of these dreams is maglev trains, a super-high-speed rail system that already exists in other parts of the world, reaching speeds of 373 miles per hour in Japan. Soon, our high-speed aspirations might become reality thanks to new funding for maglev research here in the United States.

On Saturday, the office of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that the state had received a $27.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to assess the feasibility of a superconducting maglev (also known as SCMaglev) train line between Baltimore and Washington DC.

Currently, the trip between Baltimore and Washington DC takes about an hour by car, approximately an hour and 15 minutes by commuter rail, and 40 minutes via the only current high-speed option, the Acela Express. A new maglev route could reduce that down to 15 minutes.

“The ability to travel between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. in only 15 minutes will be absolutely transformative, not just for these two cities, but for our entire state,” Hogan said in a statement. “This grant will go a long way in helping us determine our next steps in this transportation and economic development opportunity.”

$27.8 million may seem like a lot, but it's just a drop in the bucket. The final cost of such a project is still unknown, but Hogan and the Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail group, which is leading the project, expect to receive a lot more funding from private donors and the Japanese government, which already has maglev trains in use. Last April, Japan pledged to fund half of the anticipated $9.75 billion cost of the project, and license the maglev technology at no cost to the United States.

Maglev is short for magnetic levitation. A maglev train hovers above the tracks, suspended by magnets embedded in the track repelling magnets onboard. The lack of contact between the train and the track means that the train can fly between cities at ridiculously high speeds, without any friction to hold it back. There are other high-speed rail options, like the Acela, which can technically reach speeds of 150 miles per hour on conventional rails, but usually travels at speeds of 64 miles per hour.

The ride on existing maglev trains is smooth and exceedingly quick, but that doesn't mean that there are no downsides. There have been a few crashes, and maglev technology is very expensive. The cost of building a completely new infrastructure system is so high that it is hard to muster the political will to push big projects through. In 2011, Vice President Biden pledged that over the next six years, the United States government would invest $53 billion in high speed rail. That was four years ago. Between 2009 and 2014, the United States dedicated a grand total of $11 billion to high speed rail projects, which is a lot, but nowhere near $53 billion, even with the new $27.8 million grant. There are some private companies trying to step in and fill the high-speed void, but whether they get very far remains to be seen.

Here at Popular Science we've been writing about maglev trains since 1973, and there are some very cool possibilities for the technology, including trains across the Atlantic, trains to space, and even maglev elevator cars. A train between Baltimore and DC? It's a good place to start.

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November 7, 2015

Working Toward Zero: In Greece, Driverless Buses Are Now Accepting Passengers

by @ 8:00 am. Filed under Cybernation, High Design, Mass Transit

A local resident takes a photo of the tiny CityMobil2 driverless bus in Trikala, Greece. Each bus can fit 12 passengers.

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis


By Lydia Chain

Popular Science

Greek commuters have a new way to get to work: a completely driverless bus that operates within normal traffic. The buses are part of a program that has been running in Trikala, Greece, since earlier this summer, but so far they’ve only been tested without passengers--up until last Saturday, that is. Now people will be able to use the buses to get around. The trip is completely free of charge, and could be safer and more efficient than buses driven by humans.

“It’s the first time someone dared to bring a totally automated vehicle into open traffic,” Angelos Amditis tells Popular Science. Amditis is the research director at Greece's Institute of Communication and Computer Systems, which is handling the technical side of the project. Previously, automated vehicles in Greece were either operated only in segregated lanes or exhibition areas, or under the supervision of a professional driver in case of emergency. There’s no human backup for Trikala’s six automated buses, which operate surrounded by other cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

New laws had to be passed to make way for the project, and even so the buses operate under strict limitations. The maximum permitted speed is around 12 miles per hour. While other drivers can merge into its lane, a bus isn’t allowed to change lanes or make turns—it just drives a short circular route. And if there’s any obstacle in its path, it sits there and waits for the object to move. “We have to be strict,” says Amditis. When humans crash, it’s an accident, but a crash involving an automated vehicle would be a political mess, “even if there’s a hundred less accidents overall.”



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