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From Dumb Asphalt to Smart Rivers

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With congestion, dependence on oil, environmental pollution, inefficiencies in internal combustion engines, and a host of other major problems with our current “cars and trucks on asphalt” model of transportation, it’s clear we need rethink they way we transport ourselves. We are in too dire need of major change to settle for mere baby steps in the right direction. We need radical improvement, and that comes from radical ideas.

There is a lot of asphalt lain across this country for our cars and trucks. You want roads? We got roads. Public roads span roughly 4 million miles in the United States–enough to go around the entire planet 120 times. That’s a lot of windy, squiggly asphalt.

Now, this is space already set aside for the purpose of transportation, and it’s largely the case that these snakes of land, if traversed properly, can get us to our desired destinations.

Here is how we re-engineer this infrastructure, while keeping the land and geographical precision of our current road layouts: we turn our roads into rivers. Not just any rivers, of course, but we turn them into lazy rivers.

People will be able to walk outside, hop on their inner tube of choice (which by the way, are much cheaper than cars. Average new car price is $28,400. Average new inflatable inner tube price is ~$35. That’s a savings of $28,365 per person), and gleefully and peacefully float to work, the grocery store, park, mall, or friend’s house.

The naysayers out there will shout, “what are you going to do about hills and intersections?” It’s always uncreative people who slow down progress and hinder the implementation of great ideas. What they fail to realize, is that the rivers are not pure H2O. There is a special blend of H2O and ferrofluid, which is essentially a liquid magnet. This way, the flow of the rivers can be easily controlled by the linear induction motors spanning the bed of the river that create the necessary magnetic forces that induce the fluid flow. Not only can the fluid be pulled up hills, but it can reach speeds of 100 MPH (you need the the more expensive, aerodynamic, bullet tubes for those high speeds, though). The river road is broken up into lanes, but not the static, “stupid” lanes of yesterday. The entire river is a “smart” river, that adapts to exact conditions to optimize resources, travel efficiency and comfort. For example, each traveller flows in a lane specifically designed for them, based on the width of their tube, their speed, and the amount of other travelers in the vicinity. The sophisticated linear induction motors beneath the river, combined with the real-time sensors that know exactly where you are, allow for precise, dynamic control and navigation down the river. Because of this, there are literally never any wrecks.

There are two modes of operation from the perspective of the floater. You can operate in automatic mode (perfect for relaxing, evening floats), where the brains of the river will take you at the appropriate speed and direction, or there is manual mode, where you can control the speed. However, there are anti-crash algorithms in place that will over-ride your speed control if you aren’t vigilant. Your speed is controlled by a simple joystick-like apparatus on the inner tube itself.

One key component of this ferrofluid-H2O river system is that the brains are centralized. The river itself is smart and adaptable, and controls things with precision and resourcefulness. This is contrary to some people’s efforts to engineer autonomous robotically-driven automobiles that are very crash-prone. Instead of having a dumb road, where smart cars are having to interact with each other (which is the extreme decentralization of intelligence approach), having a centralized brain for the operation makes coordination a piece-of-cake. Think of it this way: if there are ten small magnets on a table and I bring a large, strong magnet near them, they will all respond accordingly, virtually instantly. Contrast that with designing and building ten small robots that communicate and coordinate with each other, and propel themselves individually, in the same direction. Decentralization of intelligence when it comes to autonomous multi-object transportation is the way to go.

The other perk of this? You can text and float.

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Written by Nathan

November 11th, 2010 at 1:10 pm

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