About science; About high speed ground transportation
This is about science produced by the California Institute of Technology and originally broadcast by station KPP C. Pasadena California. The programs are made available to the station by national educational radio. This program is about high speed ground transportation with host Dr. Albert here and his guest Dr. Peter listen. Here now is Dr. here. Yes there's an old saying that it's better to travel than to arrive. But anyone who's fought the madding crowd during rush hour at any major Western city would certainly feel that this is one proverb which has not served the test of time. It's probably quite unnecessary to outline to any urban man the problems of modern ground transportation. He knows them from intimate and better knowledge like Topsy our transportation systems have just growed. We're beginning to wonder whether Topsy is turning into a Frankenstein monster. Our guest today Dr. Peter lesser
men as assistant professor of aeronautics at Cal Tech. And Peter is a graduate of Newtown know university and is that Natal or Natal by the way Pete the toe and who we're going to do it I got it right you got it right for the time and that's in South Africa then Cambridge University in England and finally a Ph.D. from Cal Tech which makes him certainly a cosmopolitan aeronautical. Starting as one who was interested in airplanes in aerial transportation resisted the urge of space. Instead extended his interest to Marine vehicles and the technology of general ground transportation maybe I should describe that as a steady downward path beat. In 1966 he served on the committee on high speed ground transportation which was convened by the U.S. Department of Commerce and has contributed in the writing of that committee's report. And now he's an associate editor for The Journal of High-Speed ground transportation. And Pete let's start out by asking why it is that everyone is suddenly so interested in transportation we have a new department of transportation that's just been formed in the government and all of a
sudden money is being pumped into this on both a federal and local levels and a great rate what's what's all this about. Well the interesting now as you are through it described in the is charming and will tour the woods. The fact that today transportation is just an absolute mess. Say that we agree with that. It's pretty obvious I think that our cities are coming to a suffocating standstill and part of the reason for this is the completely uncontrolled just growing as you mentioned about Topsy situation. Our ground transportation system work we have today is the arrangement that anyone can decide that he's going to put in a bus line or railroad or something else that isn't quite as simple as that is when you have to have a franchise or one in a bus line and freeways are all worked out carefully by engineers charged for this task. Of course now that's true I'm I'm speaking of Mary say a somewhat higher level but I think it is true that everything is just simply putting an ad
hoc something new is needed and so it's added and it doesn't really fit in very well with the last system and the buses don't end up where the train starts and the trains don't start where the airplanes in and there's never a taxi anywhere inside. And so that's the sort of situation in which we are today. And you know since it is a result of the free reign of the entrepreneur and the engineer because we have always resisted and probably rightly we have resisted the idea of control. And the idea that some great big brother should control our whole transportation system. Yet there are the same time big brothers in a sense appointed to do this there are state departments of transportation and so on that approve these things I suppose but are you telling me this is so fragmented among the various agencies that this is this is this one of the problems.
That's right. There are big brothers niggas put is there are a couple of young small big brothers that have recently been started whose job is to do this better. Those brothers don't really know what it is they should do and they're making a very valiant effort to find out. And we should remember that like so many things that we are faced with today there are many historical parallels and I have a number of charming engravings which I wish I could show you of some of the situations in London at the turn of the century or really a little before that. The situations in the Haymarket which is just crowded with people far worse than any of our freeways or Hyde Park or any of those other beautiful spots which are full of. What we call these days in the jargon a mix to multimode transportation system which means horses carts coal burning vehicles of every sort. So this is nothing new but in a sense we have started going downwards. I think it's fair to say
that somewhere round about the turn of the century when our studies and countryside were still relatively uncrowded but when we had a fairly sophisticated transportation technology and other words we could make trains we could make trolley cars we could make passes we could make one would be out of a primitive sort. And yet there weren't enough people to impede them. Transportation was probably extremely efficient. Since then I think the engineering has outstripped. They're planning. And so what we find is that all over cities of the Western world we have these beautiful automobiles beautiful so the trains busses but they just can't move because they're just too many of them. So if it is then I would judge it. Now a planning problem rather than a purely technological problem. Yes Al I think you're very right I think it's not only planning I think there are many
aspects of the problem which are much more important than the technological one. There are. First of all I suppose the problems of economics how are we going to pay for these huge systems that we might have to put in. And it is the middle class going to accept being taxed. And they're already burdensome levels for other from more transportation systems which will be slightly less convenient I expect than the automobile but will probably be of greater good to the masses and when we talk about the mass we ask ourselves what about the sociological aspects. One of the big question for it's always asked in America is will the standard american give up his beloved Detroit chariot to get into a bus or some advanced form of high speed ground transportation with everybody else well. Willie I don't know. Politicians say that he will and as a matter of fact that brings us into one of another. I think most significant point which
is that the whole history of ground transportation and particularly today is a political one it's completely permeated by politics if you take a look around you'll see that there are Polish politicians are in favor of high speed ground transportation or mass transportation they favor that like the flag and motherhood and everything else. However they always favor it in some other area from the one in which for which they have been elected. Will you see the thing is that in the short term point of view there are actually many more things against High-Speed ground transportation than there are for it. Taxes being one of them my taxes are one of them but I think there are lots many more things under the cover more powerful and and much more significant for example. Think of all the vested interests that thrive on our oil and automobile industries today. They're against ground transportation why shouldn't they be doing them out of business. Think of the other people. Think of the
wealthy landed interests who are likely to be against things like this. If the engineers is contributed to the difficulties that exist is it possible for the engineers to work find a way out of the difficulties. Well I was going to as a find freehand of the engine are just going to make it worse. I don't know what to say about that Al but what I what I would like to point out. Really I am hardly classed myself as a politician or sociologist but I think that these are some of the major problems and that we really should. Realize that we as the public. One thing the engineer can do one of the most important things is to do this thing that he loves to do these days called System studies. That is he's fills up reams and reams of paper with scratchings wearing out just how far you should go where and how much you should pay for this. How much should go into that and how little into this. And I must say speaking as something of a cynic that I think that system studies have been done to death.
If you keep on looking for the best system you're low end up with ARC want to tour and I am very much in favor and this is just an emotional point of view without having at the things doing it now are building some system not necessarily the best but God knows it's an imperfect world we live in any of our. And I love to look at what I describe or some of these controlled transportation labs. In other words little. Why these cities in which you can put a perfect transportation system in and just see how it works. An illustration of that for example is exposed 67 which did just that and had a beautiful system. Disneyland too has their own transportation system and I think that we should go into this whole hog. We should choose some medium sized or maybe I should say small town and with a massive injection of federal phones. We should simply put a transportation system in and see if it works as a laboratory sort of thing I mean.
But it tell me you're a peach you're an aeronautical type. What has all of the sort of problem to do with aeronautics. Well first I'll give you the honest answer then I'll give you the real reason of why I mean it. And I guess an honest answer to that is that after sort of high speed south that we're thinking of product in terms of ground transportation the aerodynamic forces are the dominant ones. They are far and above the largest force on the vehicle. Now what kind of speeds are we talking about by the way where are those speeds can range from anything from 250 miles an hour which would be an excellent high speed system. Cross country to maybe 60 miles an hour in the cities but remember when we talk about 60 miles an hour in the cities we mean an honest 60 day steady 6. And I good average night which means peaks above that I presume rather I the peaks above that are on some system by which you can really men tane that speed and get the people off by some complicated means without stopping stopping or the main train. You realize
of course that the average speed of automobiles in cities around about three or four five miles an hour. But we're talking about these speeds remember that even at about 100 miles an hour. The aerodynamic forces predominate you wouldn't think that if you looked at an American automobile. But then you have to realize that they're designed by Madison Avenue types and not really by air analysis. However if you look at automobiles that are designed to perform and I mean particular things like Grand Prix racing cars you will see looking at those automobiles that obviously the designer has given very careful thought to the aerodynamics and they have very beautiful shapes some of them even have little wings on them for special purposes and their designs of theirs vehicles who realize that the aerodynamic forces are the major ones. And so. As the end of my very long and so that is perhaps an honest reason why aerodynamicist might be concerned with.
But then you are implying you have corks are not the only outing Amasis who is in this is not only a matter of other adn Amasis but are companies that are involved in Amex also having a look at this absolutely how and this is the second reason which I suppose should be described by inference is the dishonest. And that is that many aerospace firms in this country want desperately to get out of the deal. I don't think it's this is because they want to stop killing people I think it's because they feel that they may no longer be paid so much for killing people. That cynicism aside you seem quite cynical. They want to diversify they want to get into something they want to sell things. The man in the street they want to become good plain commercial traders and rather that is quite different because of course most of them have been strictly. Agents of the federal government. That's very true. Their inception and of course they would be very much still an agent of the federal government because
transportation schemes are so large that you can't imagine anyone except the government or at a much lower level city governments paying for them. But still this does seem like a stable thing to be working in and one of the points of the aerospace firms make which I think is a very well-made point is that they are particularly well suited to do this sort of job more than say the Detroit auto farms. I am afraid that that is true and the reason that any area space executive would give to you. Is because they are trained to look at a problem from the point of view of what has to be done and then harm I going to do it which is different from the way that many of the older firms look at problems which is what can I do for you. And let me now persuade you that thats what you want and I think that in the heart of playground transportation This is one of the things that we really have to do before we start. We have to take a look at the problem
from a morphological point of view a morphological point of view. Convenient definition. Yes that's a wonderful word. It really means just to take a look at the different shape of things. And I mean more than just the shape of a car I presume. No I mean the general shape of the structure. And to try to illustrate that point I'll go back the shape of a car. We feel that it's not important to design a configuration in other words take a box like structure and put a wheel on each corner and call it a car or put iron wheels on the corner and run it on a couple of iron bars and call it a railroad track. But we feel we would prefer to say to ourselves why do you want to do. You want to take in people and you want to ship them from A to B and hard can you do that. And so we consider that a morphological study is a kind of deeper study of the whole structure of the picture. In other words it's a situation in which
one insist to oneself. What is the task that I'm trying to do. And what are the general shape are the things that could could do that. And on the general shape then as is sitting back and looking at a wide variety of possibilities limited I presume by what by the capabilities of technology or materials or is there no limit at all to begin Well that's a very good point out there are some very definite limits of these we believe they are. We believe that there are certain conservation laws about energy and momentum and mass and the things that for us it's talk about. But we do believe that in many cases we are not doing nearly as well as we might. And if one considers For example the myriad ways that man moves to progress over the surface of the earth when it is the one term for the hard earth can I start to correlate or to describe morphologically all these
different things like ships like horses like roller skates like airplanes like helicopters. But the interesting thing is that you can and some years ago appeared on Carmen the celebrated aired anamnesis took to making a chart of the ways that man took to move across the surface of the earth. He could not only the surface above the surface and below it. And he called it a transportation effectiveness chart. And some of the interesting things that come out of that chart are the fact that. You can travel quite fast but if you want to travel fast then you have to get away from us and we see that man's own progress. Just like that man after all has progressed from walking to sliding on stages to rolling which of course was a great step and ultimately to flying and if one starts to measure how much energy it takes him to do these
different things one finds that these that flying takes the greatest energy of all. Although it is of course the fastest method and that sliding takes a certain amount of energy but can't go that fast and at swimming. I'm thinking here are ships takes very little energy because one doesn't have to provide energy to support oneself and one can move through a fairly. Easy medium without much if it but the fact is that on this chart one can see almost all of man's transportation devices classified and one can get an idea of the sort of the fictive ness of them. And so then one can ask oneself if I'm going to design a transportation system how should I support it in other words it's one so for it generally not do I need four wheels or a wheel on each corner or a wheel in the middle but do I need wheels or should I have wings. Or maybe I should slide or maybe I should roll like a
catapult. This means then that this problem of support is identified of this kind of analysis as a center is down as a crucial problem and of morphological study. Yes now that is that is really one of the crucial things. Fundamentally the idea of support is if you've got a box with a bunch of bodies on it that you want to hang some way from some sort of skyhook of the earth. But make it free to move. How are you going to know the metaphor you're building up here is appalling. Well go ahead. Well how are you going to do it I bypass your comment. Think for example of your most natural thought well the first thing you do if your child you put people in a box and you drag it along but that takes much too much energy. Then you make wheels wheels have been with us a long time. They're a wonderful device. Probably it for me to say anything against them but we are beginning to think that may be the time of the wheel has passed or perhaps I should be
fair. Maybe the speed of the wheel is past and maybe above one hundred fifty two hundred miles and. We shouldn't use wheels of talk. What do you have as an alternate. What do you have outside of wings. Well maybe you are swell. What we need is some form of wings out but maybe not the sort of wings that one has on an airplane that we think that what we do need is fluid support in other words we don't like an ocean. Knowing that that is not the type of fluid support that we mean what we would like to do is we would like to get a patch of high pressure fluid and we would like to support the vehicle on it just like somebody sliding along a patch of water on a sidewalk. And if one starts to think about these different means of fluid support one sees that a lot of them are with us already actually for example or wheels you know are ultimately fluid supported because theres a film of oil. Between the bearing and the journal itself and there is no metallic contect there
tall. So actually you are flying you're flying on a high pressure film of oil and that is a type of bearing which we call a slipper bearing which is a very efficient device. We might go a little bit beyond that and we might say well. I'm not prepared to go to the sort of tolerance that is required for this sort of slip a bearing and remember that I would be talking about when I would have to make a rail track of very high tolerance and slide over it with a little. Slipper like Skid which is just supported above the steel doesn't touch the feel by this layer of oil from the constraints on that design be enormous. Constraints are enormous although I might add that they have been done and some of the high speed fluids used for aeronautical testing are in a fix with a very rather special cases are not something that finds its way into mass transportation areas Bisher kids is not the sort of thing for Jerry Burke's But if we say to ourselves Well this is kind of
nice we hate rubbing our part pieces of metal against each other lieutenant a layer of fluid between them. When you come to this new and fascinating aspect. Flying in ground effect which is known as the ground effect machine. And this is a sort of vehicle which sits up on a high pressure cushion of air and seals this cushion of air by high energy air blowing around the edges and that is able to maintain itself a foot or two above the ground. Of course you have to pay power to do this right but still the ground doesn't have to be that smooth. In fact ground effect machines are hovercraft As in and England have crossed the Channel. I've gone over the tundra I have operated in the Arctic regions operated in the desert and they they look very attractive. They do have one defect and that is that they can still only be a few feet from the ground and if we say well we've got an even more lumpy ground than that. Then we say to ourselves OK let's go to the airplane. But not to the real airplane
but to what we refer to as wings and ground effect and that is a wing which always operates close to the ground in other words it's an airplane which couldn't really fly by. It could get quite high off the ground and I couldn't fly it couldn't fly out because the moment it gets out of ground effect the wings are unable to provide sufficient support I said. But as it's going to fly close to gets my beam vs. horizon that gives it its just enough left as it sinks done now it gets into what people call the ground Christian and the supports. Now all these devices have different sorts of efficiencies. They're related to different speeds and they have different requirements for their guy grays so how about moving them you mentioned already today. Now this air cushion would take quite a bit of power. Yes you also have power to push the thing along as well as lift it up. Absolutely yeah and not only do you need power to to live but try to push and this is extremely important. In fact one thing that is very critical
here is the guideway and this guy Grey is a generalized term for what the vehicle is in but if we had a gearing in a tube for example we would find that we had to push much harder because the vehicle was in a tube or a tunnel than if we had it in free air and if we were going to push by means of Jude engines or piston engines then we come back to that crucial problem that we are trying to solve by mass transportation which is what about pollution control. One of the interesting ways of avoiding this is to think about electric power of course that's an old and well-known topic or even interesting new ideas about water power when used as hydraulic jets which blow against the vehicle and drive it along something then which the thing which powers the water powered jets is presumably not an internal combustion engine located somewhere. Well it doesn't really matter where that is because that's much more concentrated and investment less pollution as a more efficient and that's just in the same way OP ruled out that the things that power
electric systems are external internal combustion systems so you measure the fact that they're pushing your way through a tunnel is not very efficient I suppose if you evacuated the tunnel in front of you you could make a little progress but take a lot of power what other kinds of guide ways are there that are available for high speed motion Besides which ones are familiar with. Well there are many different forms we've got ways to call the god where you know the kind of fancy term these days for a generalized rail or a road or a track. Tunnels are tracked at least to people who like to be most. I don't dislike them myself I think they're too expensive and too rigid. I'm rather appear to find the idea of an elevator guy great that's the thing that people talk about these days of the monorail. I find that a rather attractive thought I scenery is better at least certainly yes. And I think that currently there is a great debate about the tunneling people and the elevated people. And I think everyone agrees that we can't do on the surface that too many things there already is like
the debate and the finances and the interest that's now growing up is going to take as well. Now I simply don't know. It's practically impossible for people to say in fact I really think that this is out of the hands of the engineer. But I do believe that someone must take a step. We could do all sorts of good things now with standard engineering. We could wait a bit for advanced techniques and maybe do better. But I think the most important thing is that whatever we do we must view it with the eyes of the artist and the humanist and the man who's going to live in this world for the rest of his life and we mustn't do what our fathers did which is ruin our environment by building our transportation systems. Well if you say we're going to look at it with the eyes of the artist and the humanist How does the engineer fit into this. Well I guess the engineers simply have to couple in with these people and he has to make his proposals and then they the judges have to state whether these things are acceptable
and I for my part would be quite happy I think to pay more for a beautiful device than. Get a crummy cheaper one. Well I couldn't do it in my heart I agree with you. And well you see you know I believe Peter's a least a few of the problems that are be setting are attempts to unsnarl the ground transportation tangle and assuredly many of the problems are indeed as you point out political social call for some rethinking of old ideas about the conflicts between individuals and groups would certainly come head on in transportation. There are still some important technical questions which are unresolved. As you point out pointed out whether the wheels should we stop rolling and float on a cushion of air as you suggested or a pad of water and where to put the guide weighs in holes or at the rooftop height. The guideway location is such an intricate and twined motive the economics of statics and politics that it simply can't be answered by any straight engineering technology.
- About science
- Producing Organization
- California Institute of Technology
- KPCC-FM (Radio station : Pasadena, Calif.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program focuses on the science behind high speed ground transportation. Speakers in this program are Dr. Peter Lissaman and Dr. Albert Hibbs, both of the California Institute of Technology.
- Series Description
- Interview series on variety of science-related subjects, produced by the California Institute of Technology. Features three Cal Tech faculty members: Dr. Peter Lissaman, Dr. Albert R. Hibbs, and Dr. Robert Meghreblian.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Host: Hibbs, Albert R.
Producing Organization: California Institute of Technology
Producing Organization: KPCC-FM (Radio station : Pasadena, Calif.)
Speaker: Babcock, Charles D.
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-40-81 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “About science; About high speed ground transportation,” 1968-04-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-hh6c6h51.
- MLA: “About science; About high speed ground transportation.” 1968-04-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-hh6c6h51>.
- APA: About science; About high speed ground transportation. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-hh6c6h51