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Comment: Re:30 years ago.... (Score 1) 210

by Jeremi (#49778387) Attached to: Amtrak Installing Cameras To Watch Train Engineers

So yeah, it's not as easy as just throwing a GPS on your locomotive and calling it good.

Still, even a partial solution (e.g. one that matches the train's GPS location, if known, against a table of specified maximum-safe-under-any-circumstances speed limits for that location) would prevent a train wreck in certain cases (such as the recent one that prompted this article). I'm all for full PTC, but I don't think the perfect needs to be made the enemy of the good here.

Comment: Re:Time to find better engineers (Score 2) 210

by Jeremi (#49778353) Attached to: Amtrak Installing Cameras To Watch Train Engineers

If the engineers' concentration is so fragile that they are going to be distracted by a camera, they are obviously not the right people to be operating complex machinery.

They suffer from a condition called "being human". It causes occasional failures in an otherwise operational controller-human, some very small percentage of the time. Even the highest-quality controller-humans have a non-zero failure rate.

Maybe we should just replace them with automation and run the trains remotely. They could keep one engineer per train to engage the manual override in the event that someone hacks the control infrastructure and tries to do Bad Things(tm) to the trains.

That is actually a pretty good idea, and it's more or less what PTC is intended to do, at least as far as the "avoid accidents" part of the job is concerned. Automating things further than that is also possible, although probably not really necessary.

Comment: Re:The one question (Score 1) 107

People looking at the car have to be able to tell that that car is an electric vehicle and not an ICE, in order to properly appreciate how the EV owner is saving the planet. By making it ugly, they can also allow the owner to sacrifice further by not driving a good looking car.

That's the cynical answer.

The actual reason that EV cars often look strange is because the designers are trying to make them as aerodynamic as possible in order to extend their range.

As battery power density becomes more adequate, maximizing aerodynamic efficiency will become less of a priority, so in the future you can expect designs that make efficiency tradeoffs in order to get a better look.

Comment: Re:Yeah, good luck with that (Score 1) 333

by Jeremi (#49720443) Attached to: Genetically Engineered Yeast Makes It Possible To Brew Morphine

How would they restrict them to something that someone with enough money couldn't buy their way around?

Now that it's known to be possible, the drug cartels don't even need to buy or steal the recipe. If necessary, they could just hire some genetic engineers to independently re-discover how to do it.

Comment: Re:and dog eats tail (Score 1) 393

by Jeremi (#49718183) Attached to: Feds Order Amtrak To Turn On System That Would've Prevented Crash

And that's a perfectly valid argument. The "We must do something!" crowd won't accept that, but it's valid nonetheless.

It seems like there might be a a way to solve this particular problem more cheaply. How much extra safety could be provided without upgrading any track? If we accept (for the sake of this thread) that this was a case of operator error, it seems like that accidents like this could be avoided by installing onto each train a speed governor linked to a GPS receiver and a known-speed-limits database. While that wouldn't handle all the possible issues that PTC would, I doubt that would cost anywhere near as much as upgrading thousands of miles of track. That might be a reasonable safeguard to install in the short term while waiting for a more comprehensive solution to be funded and installed.

Comment: Re:New Jersey and Other Fictions... (Score 1) 615

by Jeremi (#49707637) Attached to: The Economic Consequences of Self-Driving Trucks

In NJ, you aren't allowed to pump your own gas so that you will keep the guy who pumps it employed.

An interesting side-effect of this might be that more full-serve gas-pumping jobs are created (outside of NJ of course). All those self-driving trucks aren't going to be able to pump their own gas...

Comment: Re:An ever bigger torpedo (Score 1) 228

by Jeremi (#49707557) Attached to: Self-Driving Big Rigs Become a Reality

In theory, the orange cones could have RFID or some other technology added that can be polled indicating that it's in a construction zone. Much like the invisible fence for the iRobot vacuum cleaners.

In practice, though, the self-driving vehicles are simply going to have to be able to see the orange cones, understand what they are and what they mean, and react appropriately. Blind drivers (human or otherwise) are not going to be tolerated on public roadways.

Comment: Re:What could possibly go wrong (Score 1) 228

by Jeremi (#49707515) Attached to: Self-Driving Big Rigs Become a Reality

Who is going to do any of this when they're almost certain to be caught and put into prison?

In either case, the tricky part isn't stopping the truck or getting to the goods; the tricky part is getting away with the goods, without being identified and captured.

Robberies depend on anonymity to work. A truck full of two-way digital communications devices and sensors continuously recording its environment makes anonymity quite a bit more difficult to maintain than than the eyewitness testimony of a single (probably quite rattled) human driver with a CB radio.

Comment: Re:THIS will drive the adoption of the auto-driver (Score 1) 228

by Jeremi (#49707473) Attached to: Self-Driving Big Rigs Become a Reality

In other words - reinventing a less efficient version of the railroad.

A railroad that has tracks that go everywhere, can share the tracks with automobiles, and has multiple lanes of tracks on every route so that the faster vehicles can pass slower ones (at any time or place, no less -- try that with a traditional train ;))

Certainly it's less fuel-efficient (because the vehicles are shorter, so there's more weight-overhead per vehicle), but the additional flexibility may make up for that. Getting your goods from point A to point B on a train is great, but somewhat less great if you actually need them transported from point C to point D and have to first load them onto trucks, then onto the train, then back onto trucks again to accomplish that.

Blessed be those who initiate lively discussions with the hopelessly mute, for they shall be known as Dentists.