Thursday, April 23, 2009

Heading on...

Waiting for the plane at Heathrow terminal 5 (actually my flight is from T3, but I came here just to see the building from inside :P). It's spacious.

Bought a pen from WHSmith's to write a card to my wife. Only to realize the Parker packaging is completely impossible to open without a knife. Isn't it funny that an airport sells such packages... Hmm. :) I asked the juice/coffee counter for scissors and they "opened" (demolished) the packaging with a 30cm kitchen knife! Wau. Maybe even they are not allowed to have scissors in here?

Actually, this is prior to security checks, but still.

The last day of PRT@LHR was about CityMobil project of the European Union. Fine so far, seems they've got a more wide spread view on the field (cybercars, semiautomated buses etc.) but it makes me wonder, whether any EU project will ever really lead to anything. Maybe that is not even the intention. Maybe the intention is to "support" already ongoing projects.

As a potential entrepreneur I wouldn't hold my breath on EU funding. My understanding is any incoming money flow is more than offset by the amount of burocracy involved. Sadly, some of todays presentations did enforce that. Boooooooring... I guess EU must be?

On the positive side, the concensus across the board (of companies) seems to be very positive to standardization. Everyone seems to realize that while there's definately competition, there's also vast amounts of playfield where co-operation and common methods is the easiest solution for everyone. Such standardization was called for in the comments, and I never heard anyone stand against. As was obvious by now, the PRT movement is not only about technology but also vastly about social acceptance and community planning. If it's added as a topping on an already existing cake (as Heathrow case actually is) it has suboptimal chances. It should be part of a wider change of planning models, including architects, city planners etc.

Nathan Koren of ATS sees a parallel to how container ships pretty much revolutionized cargo traffic some 50 years back (only!). He recommends the book Box to anyone wanting to understand the mechanisms that may be very similar to PRT acceptance as well.

I think I better catch my flight now. LOTS OF THANKS to everyone attending and especially those in charge of arrangements. I'm sure next time a conference takes place, the world will again look rather different to us. Call it progress.


Jayhawk said...

Thanks for your good and unbiased reporting!

Mr_Grant said...

I second Jayhawk's praise. Thanks for providing a balanced eyewitness view and your honest opinions about the PRT designs that were discussed.

And sorry Ken Avidor had to disrupt the discussion.

Ollie Mikosza said...

Hi Asko,

Nice to hear that you remembered me and welcomed my comment :)

I also second positive sentiments by the predecessors and regret the 'fly in the ointment' detractions by avidor. Strange, that intelligent people, should not wish for PRT to become reality, even if they have doubts. But to to fabricate falacies, twist the truth etc. ?! Does it make them feel better?

Anyway, in closing, I'd like to respectfully disagree with opinions, that PRT is in need of any standarisation. Comparison to containers is a missed point, because PRT in Opole, San Jose etc., won't need to have anything i common with PRT in Masdar or Heathrow. Whichever design is better - it will prevail, even if it comes to the scene latter.

How would one want to standarise ULTra and Vectus, never mind suspended systems like MISTER ? I also doubt that even a very similar systems like 2GT and ULTra will want to join forces and standarise on anything, other than tires.

I agree that on the economic front, PRT vendors will not get much help from any bureacracy, in EU or elswhere.

But I disagree again, that PRT will need their financial help. It will be such a profitable business, that once it is proven by first citywide commercial operation, there will be no shortage of private and bank money to fund further developments. By that time, every city bureaucrats will be begging PRT companies to let them build it, as it will solve the nightmare of city transit and supplies, not to mention ecology.

I challange anyone (except avidor kind) to disprove my calculations, that e.g. my MISTER system will payback for itself under 4 years in poor country like Poland and in less than 1 year in a place like San Jose, USA. Any other PRT system will also be a profitable operation, unlike every other kind of public transit system currently in operation.

Three companies have enough money to build city systems but no city gave them permission as yet, while I have a reverse situation, with 6 cities giving us permission to build, but no money to do it.

If this is not second to none business opportunity, than what is? Speculating on the stocks, with results as currently witnessed?!

best regards,

Ollie Mikosza

A Transportation Enthusiast said...

Indeed, thanks for the excellent reporting.

And of course, thanks also to Ken Avidor for the comic relief. :-)

Avidor said...

Thanks again, and please post those photos you took.

Welcome to the brave new world of PRT!

akauppi said...

Jayhawk: how would you know it's unbiased? :P

Ollie: the standardization is mostly seen as a way to lower the customer's risk of purchase. It was not so much on the presentations themselves, more in the crowd comments and lobby talk. With regard to ULTra and 2GT they could imho have joint interfaces for the track (both staying on the track and communication to the controller). This could allow customers to use both devices on the same track. Cybercars, it seems, are seeing the standardisation as an essential part of their requirements for success (= you cannot expect only one vehicle company to own the streets).

Even with railed approaches, I would favor certain solutions to become the standard, and to license their track designs to others. If Vectus for example were to do this, it would only make it easier for customers to select them since it's not a provider lock-in situation any more. Maybe the reality will be in-between, like Intel licensing certain chip designs to second source but essentially keeping the valuables for itself. Or like Fiat licensing their car designs to Poland (in the 1980's or so).

As to standardising accross different rail approaches, there's still plenty of possibility:
- simulation models and interfaces
- control software
- cabin software and user interfaces

Maybe I'm pushing it a bit too far there, but why not. Utilizing different cabins in similar ways is just as important as using ATM's or computers in intuitive ways. If passangers find them easy to operate, it will again benefit everyone.

akauppi said...

Avidor: About your link.

I had a reality check myself, attending this conference. It was good. It was real.

Many of the criticism of sites s.a. that are indeed justified, but based on false assumptions. Maybe it also has to do with the American mindset, go and figure.

I familiarized myself with the 'critical' (read: negative) aspects before joining the PRT movement (which I think I now have). They are mostly due to bad designs (Raytheon etc.) and expecting too much (bandwidth issues) and placing PRTs to answer the wrong problems. What professional traffic designers are doing is calculating where PRTs make the most sense. And they do, but not everywhere. And each case is unique and its possibilities are pitholes are, as well.

If you, still, want to be pessimistic (or maybe afraid of it; many people's reactions are usually guided by their fears) about it, then please brush up the web sites you have power to do so. I find most 'critical' websites way too amateurish in their visual layout to be taken seriously, at all. You're doing the _exact_ same overadvertising (but negatively) as I mentioned Vectus doing for the PRTs. Bot are harmful. This is JUST the traffic means of the future, that's all. :)

And please observe my initial comments about the ULTra track. I still think it's too heavy looking. We can and we should do better than that.

Avidor said...

Asko, you ask a lot of good questions. That's a good thing.

You can contact me directly. My contact info is on my Blogger profile.

Also contact and ask questions of my critics... for instance, if my info is so obviously bogus, why do they waste so much time and effort to blog about me? ( see profiles of Mr_Grant and A.T.E.)

Because I cut through the hype with documents and videos?

Thanks again and good luck.

akauppi said...

Avidor: I did look through one of the videos, "PRT Fakery?", where the presented speed of ULTra is compared between two separate films.

This is so beating the wrong bush. Even if the other movie would have been run 2x faster (it doesn't take much to do that in a player) so what? ULTra is limited to 40km/h because of legal reasons. They get by with easier safety criteria this way, and in my opinion it is a valid argument. For now.

I do recognize the 'R' in PRT being a little vague for now. The devices I've seen don't seem that rapid. But compare the 40km/h with the effective speed of a subway (41km/h in Helsinki) and it actually starts to be rapid.

If needing more RRRRRapid in the future, I'm sure that is not the problem. When cars started, they were limited to 20km/h if I recall right.

The problem with both PRT + and - guys (and gals?) is that you seem to focus on the wrong issues. In my opinion.

Nathan Koren said...

Asko: it was very good to meet you at the conference, and I'll be happy to help with your endeavors wherever possible. If you want more detail on how I see the development of the PRT industry this essay which I wrote last year. It looks at parallels between the development of the PRT industry and several other disruptive technologies (including containerization) -- which, contrary to popular belief, often struggle for decades (or even centuries, in the case of railways) before achieving widespread success. I look at what sort of convergence of social, political, economic, and regulatory factors will be necessary to support the success of the PRT industry.

Ollie: I agree that PRT systems should not standardize too soon -- a diversity of approaches will be needed, and may the best design win. However, PRT is not simply an engineering problem, and many of the non-engineering aspects of PRT *will* need standardization before it can achieve widespread success. In particular, the cross-discipline *processes* involved in building PRT systems will need to become standardized, long before the technology itself is standardized (which you can bet that it eventually will be: technologies which benefit from very strong networking effects always are).

Working for ATS, I have seen first-hand how building a PRT system is not simply a matter of dropping it into a site: the PRT vendor must work very closely with the the planners, architects, and civil engineers of every type -- all of whom are impacted (mostly positively) by the addition of a PRT. Learning how to accommodate the PRT is a worthwhile challenge for them -- but not if they need to learn an entirely separate methodology for each and every PRT vendor! That would be like learning an entirely different CAD program for each type building material you might want to design with. If that is the case, then PRT technology will NOT be integrated into these other professional practices -- and without planners, architects, and civil engineers on your side, you don't have a project. This is why the industry needs to start agreeing on process standardization long before product standardization takes place.

Avidor: People enjoy blogging about you because you're just SO much fun! Anyhow, I think that most PRT criticism is tremendously useful. There's the sincere critic, who asks the difficult and challenging questions which, which can only benefit the PRT industry in the end. We need more of those types, and fortunately we're getting them. One of the more dynamic presentations at the conference was on the social acceptability of PRT, pointing out 50 different ways in which it ain't necessarily going to be that simple or easy. The more we deal with those very real issues, the better we'll get.

And then there's you, Avidor: you're not a critic of PRT, you're an opponent. Your objective isn't to ask difficult and challenging questions -- it's to kill PRT outright, regardless of its merits (which you haven't even the foggiest understanding of). I have no idea why you're so obsessed with this; that's between you and your psychiatrist. Ay any rate, the beautiful thing is that you oppose PRT in such a wonderfully overblown, ham-fisted manner -- generously throwing around slanderous non-sequiturs, lunatic conspiracy theories, and outright bald-faced lies -- that you make the PRT industry look utterly mature in comparison. We honestly couldn't ask for a better comedic foil. Your antics have done more good for PRT than you could possibly imagine (although someday I plan to tell you the full story of all the good that you've done) -- so all I can say is please keep up the good work!

Avidor said...

Here's a question for you Nathan Koren, why did the PRT "industry" pick the most flawed elected officials in MInnesota to promote PRT in the media?: Zimmermann, Bachmann and Rep. Mark Olson?

The same could be said of the politcians promoting PRT in Daventry and Ithaca.... is Jake Roberts the best you could find?

Incidentally, Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the politician who accurately described PRT as a boondoggle years ago is the current Speaker of the House.

akauppi said...

Avidor: We don't care.

If you say Minnesota another time here, your message gets deleted. And anyways we are not that "industry" so your question is entirely misplaced.

Nathan Koren said...

Oh my dear Mr. Avidor, have I mentioned recently how much I absolutely adore your delusions? You seriously think that the PRT industry is politically powerful enough to "pick politicians" to do our bidding? That's fantastic! I can only hope that someday this will actually be the case; in the meantime, we're a small and determined bunch of entrepreneurs, who are keeping our noses to the grindstone in an attempt to bring a great new transportation technology to market. (Okay, occasionally we take brief breaks to taunt the peanut gallery, but then it's back to work). Those of us with money are using it to build actual PRT systems; those of us without money certainly don't have the sway to put politicians in their pockets.

Now, as to why some obscure politicians on the other side of the world might have latched onto the concept? I have no idea; I'm generally on the opposite side of the political spectrum from those guys, and wouldn't presume to speculate on how their brains, or whatever they think with, might work. Nor do I ever judge the merits of an idea based on which politicians have espoused it. For example: I am a vegetarian. So was Hitler. My vegetarianism is in no way an endorsement of Hitler, and it certainly doesn't obligate me to apologize for him in anyways. Likewise, I neither endorse, will apologize for, or particularly care about any of the politicians you mention.

It might be worth recalling that even a stopped clock can be right twice a day. Richard Nixon, for example, supported the clean air act, the endangered species act, and doubled the size of the national parks. The fact that he was a corrupt and generally despicable person doesn't mean that I'm now opposed to clean air, wildlife, and nature. To give another example: you support trains. Despite the fact that you are reliably wrong about virtually everything, so do I. In fact, I'm having very friendly and productive discussions with certain players in the rail industry about the many complementary ways that we can work together.... oh wait, did I say that out loud?

Anyhow, this has been fun. Have a great day, and please don't forget to keep it cranked to 11! :-) We love ya, Ken!

Asko: Many apologies for having this thread hijack your blog, but after all the activity of the conference, this is a pleasant way to unwind. It's not much of a sport, I know, but stick around the PRT industry for long enough, and you'll probably pick up the habit; it's hard to resist. Also, remind me to tell you sometime about some of the genuinely great stuff that Ken has done for the industry. My enthusiasm for his antics may seem ironic, but it isn't. He's been great!

akauppi said...

Nathan: No problem. Thanks for watching my back; I just played an hour of Bad Company and sure got kicked around way more than I should (though I do suck in that game, mostly).

As to mentioning the M state, my ultimatume remains.

Happy Weekend, everyone! :)

A Transportation Enthusiast said...


Just to emphasize what Nathan said: I know of at least 4 or 5 PRT advocates, including myself, who became advocates as a DIRECT result of Ken Avidor. In my particular case, I was a train buff who happened to read about PRT and found it interesting, but I was far from a strong advocate until I came into contact with Ken.

Ken's outrageous claims FORCED me to take a closer look. Before Ken, I was mildly skeptical, but after reading his *incredible* allegations, I was drawn to do more research. And the more I researched, the more I realized how truly revolutionary PRT could be.

And I can't tell you how many times Ken revived my interest after it waned. His relentless campaign forced me to keep following it; every new outrageous claim forcing me to do more research to debunk it.

It's now more than 3 years since my first interaction with Ken, and these days I no longer need his prodding to follow PRT. Even if Ken went away I'd still be a huge advocate. But I'm certain I would never have acquired this passion without Ken.

And I'm not alone; there are others who owe their PRT passion to Ken. That's why Nathan is so encouraged by Ken's continued presence... the day Ken goes away is the day PRT loses it's greatest recruiter. In fact, he's so good that I've often wondered if he's secretly an advocate who has concoted this campaign to draw people in. But ultimately I reject that theory, because I'm not the one into conspiracies... ;-)

Anonymous said...

I wanted to give my compliments to you for this fine & informative set of posts on PRT@LHR.

Your reports & photos are very welcome.

Mr Avidor's comments are always in entertaining - and a reminder that jingoistic hyperbole & projection are not the exclusive domain of crazy right-wingers.

I can excuse for his constant drumbeat on Minnesota politics, though.

1) He lives there (and, presumably, only vacations in Alameda ;-) ).
2)Taxi 2000/Skyweb Express, one of the most developed PRT designs, is located in suburban Minneapolis; as is Dr Ed Anderson, it's former president & the primary designer of the Taxi 2000 system.
3) There has been serious effort to get the Taxi 2000 system adopted in both the Minneapolis area & the Duluth, MN area. (It is a shame those efforts have not been successful.)

Also, it is a great pleasure to read the comments of the indomitable Mr Grant & his fellow PRT fan ATE - nice to see you all again gents!!

Fianlly, there is a nice little blurb on Autoblog Green on the Masdar PRT system. I was surprised to learn that Masdar is only 1 mile square.

akauppi said...

Masdar is larger than that. Maybe this is a misinformation based on some current part of the city, or.. don't know.

Wikipedia says "6 square kilometres (2.3 sq mi) on a site 6.4 km2 (2.5 sq mi) in size and will be home to 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses"

The (Middle) East has a tradition of rather self-sufficient citylets, I would think. I've seen that in India, where many projects are built as if small cities of their own.

Anonymous said...

there's a nice video of a test drive on the Heathrow track over at the following link:

I was disappointed at how rough the ride appeared to be. It does not bode well for positive word-of-mouth from average users.

I am, however, pretty happy with the "off-siding" docking method, as this allows Grandma Millie to putter around & settle into her pod for as long as she wants without holding up other riders, as the "queued" method used in other designs would do.

Here's hoping the bugs are worked out & we see more progress soon.

Mr_Grant said...

FYI, the perceived roughness of the ride has been discussed elsewhere. It is attributable to the photographer not using a tripod.