[PLUG-TALK] Train scout-bots

Ronald Chmara ronabop at gmail.com
Wed Jan 31 21:58:33 PST 2018

On Wed, Jan 31, 2018 at 9:01 PM, Keith Lofstrom <keithl at kl-ic.com> wrote:

> 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.

So about 1-5 miles ahead of a train, with some kind of communications
system to signal "back" over that distance, and also travelling at the
25-150 mph of the vehicle behind it (increasing the distance as the speed
increases),... zippy little things!

>   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.

The lead-lag might be an interesting problem to think about, as well.
Existing railroad gates give ample warning, and yet humans still try to
cheat/beat those (and many other similar systems):
"Oh, scout bot just went through, so I have a minute or two to get
"the don't walk light just started flashing, I can cross the crosswalk...",
"it's a yellow light on the vehicle intersection, I can drive through..."

> 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.

This is my favorite part about the idea, the art. :)
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