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Develop and implement a system for small article transport as a utility service instead of driving to get groceries, deliver mail, etc.


Guidance on collaborative pilot

This is a pilot test of a new, collaborative approach for getting work done in the Climate CoLab. It will run during March and April of 2012.

Just like in the 2011 activities, anyone can create a proposal. But there is also a community proposal, where members are encouraged to work together in a collaborative way. Any member can contribute to the community proposal as long as they are logged in.

The community proposal is like a wiki, so the history of edits is tracked, and you can revert to prior versions of the proposal if desired.

Please also use the Comments to express your opinion on whether or not you would like to see this collaborative approach used in the Climate CoLab in 2012.

Feel free to organize the proposal as you see fit. One thought—it's good to have a brief summary of the overall proposal at the top, as an aid to readers.

Proposal Text


Autonomous electric traction motor container cars in enclosed tubes with power supplied along the guideway could be developed and implemented using existing technologies at a cost low enough to earn a return on investment, and increase our standard of living at the same time.  Modern brushless dc motors are very reliable, powerful, efficient, small and affordable, and their only moving parts are the ball bearings.  Today's motor controllers are also reliable,  efficient, small and inexpensive.  These and other recent developments make it easily possible to demonstrate that a "physical internet" could be built enabling on demand point to point transportation of small payloads over arbitrary distances at effective speed and low operating and maintenance cost.  The energy consumed by such a system moving for example a gallon of milk, compared to driving a car to retrieve it, would be about two orders of magnitude less.  Such a system could be used to move any containerized payloads that would fit: materials, goods, or trash.

Category of the action

Reducing emissions from transportation

What actions do you propose?

  • Major Tasks to be Accomplished:

    1. Completer the prototype vehicle, already under design and construction, to full mobility functionality.  This will involve an iterative design-build-test-redesign-rebuild-retest process.  The goal will not be ultimate optimization, but overall acceptable physical representation of the concept.  Frame assembly will be primarily of precision hobby brass stock, using a combination of soldering and hardware fasteners.  This is forecast to total 120 man-hours of shop time.  Material acquisition time is included in this estimate.  Material and parts costs to be about $1,000 per vehicle.  I will perform this step.  One prototype vehicle with full mobility functionality will exist.
    2. Complete version one programming of control system in support of vehicle construction.  This version relies on a very simple set of well proven and inexpensive input/output devices, and target function for this version will be operator interface for: entering programmed route, starting and stopping execution.  Execution will control vehicle throttle and route selection to reach destination and halt.  Estimated 80 hours of development time.  I will perform this step.  The prototype vehicle installed primary control system will function as specified.
    3. Build branching guideway components, construct test system.  Material selection and fabrication techniques for straight guideway sections have already been developed.  System power supply components are external, portable, already purchased, and ready.  These same materials are satisfactory for completing all remaining aspects of a complete system, including branching components, gradual sweeps and sharp turns, etc.  Construction plans for remaining components are already developed, and simply remain to be executed.  Based on existing section construction time of 1 man-hour per 8 feet section, a test system in an approximate figure 8 with one ingress, and one egress, and having total linear distance of about 500 feet, with simple temporary foundations and support for above ground mounting, constructed so as to afford disassembly, portability, and reassembly, is forecast to total about 200 man-hours.  Material cost will be about $4,000.  I will perform this step.  The initial test system will exist and be in place for operational testing at my ~3 acre residence in Pittsgrove NJ.  Further, this system will afford disassembly, transport, and reassembly.


    1. Single vehicle testing and refinement.  Operation of first vehicle on test track to measure performance, both operational characteristics and energy consumption.  This may take about 40 man-hours.  I will perform this step.  The prototype vehicle will successfully demonstrate operational performance in accordance with control system performance specification.
    2. Construction of second vehicle.  This should take only about 120 man-hours.  Material and parts cost to remain at about $1,000.  I will perform this step.  One additional prototype vehicle with full mobility functionality will exist.
    3. Two vehicle testing.  This testing arrives at the go/no-go key performance criteria of the concept: merge.  The two vehicle merge concept being tested is elegant, simple, and expected to succeed based on any and all modeling and analysis, but this will be the test.  Further project development hinges on success at this point.  80 man-hours may be necessary for this step, as any initial test failure will be followed by exhaustive application of preplanned adjustments to the merge concept.  Conversely, early success could allow completion of this step in less than 20 man-hours.  I will perform this step. The prototype vehicles will successfully demonstrate operational performance in accordance with control system performance specification, specifically regarding successful merging operations.
    4. Mounting of remaining vehicle sensors and incorporation into control scheme.  This involves primarily an iterative program-test-reprogram-retest agenda.  There may be changes made to hardware choices, and/or software.  This step is subject to continuous examination for the remaining life of the project.  Acceptable performance is sought here, and 160 man-hours of development and testing is allotted.  I will perform this step. The prototype vehicles will successfully demonstrate operational performance in accordance with control system performance specification, specifically regarding autonomous operation in all two vehicle traffic circumstances.
    5. Construction of remaining 2 vehicles to allow multi-vehicle testing.  Further control scheme adjustments may be necessary pending outcome of this testing.  200 hours allotted.  I will perform this step. The prototype vehicles will successfully demonstrate operational performance in accordance with control system performance specification, under all multi-vehicle traffic circumstances.

Who will take these actions?

These steps will be performed by myself, Robert DeDomenico, with some help from relatives and friends.  I have the expertise necessary to complete the job.

Where will these actions be taken?

In my garage and back yard, at my residence in Pittsgrove, NJ.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

Since each payload mile of system operation uses about 1% as much energy as using a car to move that same payload, emissions will be reduced by about a factor of 100 for each automobile mile displaced.

According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration's Bureau of Transportation Statistics' National Household Traffic Survey data, about 12.6% of Americans' driving is not for the purpos e of moving people anywhere, but moving things (e.g. groceries, mail, pharmacy, trash to the dump, etc.)  Current annual vehicle miles travelled (VMT) are about 3 trillion, and 90% of that is by light trucks and cars, so an upper limit of about 340 billion VMT could be avoided per year.  If only 10% of this could be realized, the savings would be based on avoiding 34 billion VMT per year, or about 1.25% of our annual emmissions from light cars and trucks.

What are other key benefits?

People will have more convenient access to a wider variety of goods on shorter notice.  Automobile traffic will be reduced, lowering congestion, reducing accidents and their associated losses.  People who are limited in their mobility will be put on a more equal footing with others.  Overall, final retail prices paid for goods will drop because this will become a more effective means of distribution.

Auto operation costs average about $0.50 per mile regardless of the payload size, plus the value of the driver’s time.    Typical average speed for all of a car’s operation is only 30 mpg… cars get driven about 12,000 miles per year… so we’re spending 400 hours a year behind the wheel!   About 12% of Americans’ driving is actually just operating the car as a long distance wheelbarrow to move things.  We get things with our cars when we want to, and we pay the price in both time and money.

We could move things another way and pocket the savings in both time and money.

What are the proposal’s costs?

For the amount of development work I propose, and from where the project is now, the total cost will come in at about ten thousand dollars.

Time line

About two years to complete the major tasks outlined.  Project work is only evenings, weekends and holidays, as I already have a full time job.

Related proposals

Yes, some.  The "Intertubes" proposal is similar, but it differs in advocating central traffic control and linear induction motors.


The Long Tail, Chris Anderson

Pneumatic Despatch, by Professor C. A. Carus-Wilson, M.A., as published Friday, March 2, 1900, Journal of the Society of Arts, No. 2,467 Vol. XLVIII

The Geography of Transport Systems, Jean-Paul Rodriq

A Call for Transportation Innovation, by Auren Hoffman, BloombergBusinessWeek, Technology,

History of Transport and Travel,

The Search for Infrastructure-Driven Transformation, William Fulton,