[PLUG-TALK] Train scout-bots

Keith Lofstrom keithl at kl-ic.com
Wed Jan 31 21:01:36 PST 2018

Another Amtrak collision in the news, this time a train
full of congressmen hitting a garbage truck at a West
Virginia grade crossing and killing one of the drivers.
Tragically, all of the politicians survived ...

Infantile "humor" aside, drivers are too distracted and
the landscape too dense with targets for manually driven
railroad trains to avoid accidents.  Yet tracks are a
simple constrained environment, and rail vehicles are very
expensive, so "self-driving" assistance should be easier
and relatively more affordable than cars on roads.

Imagine a "track scout-bot", a low-slung rack of sensors
and batteries and motors driving small high-RPM wheels
traveling ahead of a train at, say, 2 times the stopping
distance of train behind it.  The scout-bot senses
obstructions ahead and slows VERY rapidly to a stop,
signalling the train behind to stop as well.  The train
also slows if there is a loss-of-signal from the scout-bot.

The scout-bot could be designed to raise its wheels and
stop with long abrasive brake pads over the rails; worst
case also abrasive braking on the roadbed.  The body
would be a few inches above grade, and designed to slide
UNDER a vehicle stalled at a grade crossing, perhaps with
lightweight breakaway masts above for more sensors and
warning lights etc.  The hard part would be making it
obvious, and sensitive enough to detect distracted
pedestrians and cyclists and large animals on the tracks
as it approaches.  Bambi survives, Kitty may get squashed.

Anyway ... I write about this here because we have some
robot experimenter geeks on the list, and this is a
project that a small team could start experimenting with.
Perhaps there are some unused rail spurs in the area
suitable for test tracks; a fast start/stop scout-bot
wouldn't need miles of track for testing.

Besides, it would be awesome, especially if the parts
that stick up were artistic.  Light sculptures, or 
styrofoam statues of 18th century novelists, perhaps.


P.S. Gen 2 could deep-scan the rails and roadbed to
insure they are well anchored and structurally sound.
Always plan for product upgrade/replacement sales!

Keith Lofstrom          keithl at keithl.com

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