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Sci-Fi Hardware Technology

Sci-Fi Tech We Could Have Right Now (For a Price) 526

PlainBlack writes "Possibility isn't limited by technology. And it's certainly not limited by human imagination. What makes something impossible is the lack of cold, hard, cash. Wired blog takes a look at 10 science fiction technologies we could build, if they weren't so expensive. 'New York-L.A. Maglev Express - Cost: $70bn (Based on established construction costs). At $70bn, it's tantalizingly affordable by the standards of this roundup: a train that could beat airliners from one side of the country to the other. Many agree that Maglev has enormous potential. Bite-sized examples are in operation all over the world. Birmingham, England, had the first in the 1980s, though the promise of airliner-like speeds on land is still unrealized. The British system sped along at a pathetic 26MPH and was designed to get air travelers to the planes, not to outrun them.'"
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Sci-Fi Tech We Could Have Right Now (For a Price)

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @07:32PM (#22327148)
    for a sci-fi device which installed in Richard Stallman a sense of shame.

    OMG my eyes, teh goggles do NOTHING!! []
  • by taustin ( 171655 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @07:33PM (#22327160) Homepage Journal
    a train that could beat airliners from one side of the country to the other

    You'd still have to arrive at the train station three hours early and take your shoes off for the TSA goons.
    • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @07:36PM (#22327194) Journal
      Security theatre at a railway station would be a much harder sell. Nobody is going to fly a train into a skyscraper. They're not going to have a lot of luck hijacking it either.

      "Take me to Mexico!"
      "We can't. The tracks only go as far as California"
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by taustin ( 171655 )
        Imagine a fully loaded train at 300 mph crashing in to Grand Central Station in Manhattan.
        • by Amorymeltzer ( 1213818 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @07:58PM (#22327426)
          Still less likely - You know EXACTLY which route it's going to take, and can build in controls to your "Command Center." A plane in the air is all on its own while a train is bound by a number of things, least of all tracks. At the very least you could intercept it with another large object, not to mention any other mechanism built into the train/track for such an event.

          It's not perfect, nor fool-proof, but it's far safer. At least you can't fall 30,000 feet.
          • by SuperQ ( 431 ) *
            Most high-speed trains are electric.. All you have to do is cut power to the line and have an automatic "power gone for too long? apply brakes" control into the train's automation. (yes, there is a bit of backup power on the train)
            • by Skippy_kangaroo ( 850507 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @11:42PM (#22329586)
              Actually - they are usually failsafe. You don't need residual power.

              Think about what that means - their failure mode is safe. It is a well established design and engineering principle.

              For example, the brakes are held open by compressed air. If something goes wrong the compressed air supply shuts off and the brakes stop the train.
          • not to mention any other mechanism built into the train/track for such an event

            Ummm, that would be one of these...



          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by geekoid ( 135745 )
            Considering airplanes can now take off, fly and land all on autopilot, the real solution to hijacking is a command override.(Over ride, where is the over ride!)

            Yes, you read that right they can take off and land on their own, and often do.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by tsa ( 15680 )
            Why not just cut the electricity? Easier and faster than putting a heavy object on the rails (which has to be VERY!!!! heavy to stop a long train going very fast), and you save a lot of lives too.
        • by Joe U ( 443617 )

          Imagine a fully loaded train at 300 mph crashing in to Grand Central Station in Manhattan.
          Interesting, considering Grand Central Station is a post office.

          Assuming you mean Grand Central Terminal, don't you think we could easily build a safety system, similar to the one in the nearly 100yr old subway running next door?

        • by zsau ( 266209 )
          Most regular run-of-the-mill a-dime-a-dozen subway trains have systems in place so that if the driver metaphorically "puts his foot down" ignoring the signals, the train will stop anyway, with no way the driver could over-ride them. I think if we've got a train costing billions of dollars, they're not going to skimp on security. The most dangerous thing you can do on a train is blow it up.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Sta7ic ( 819090 )
          Imagine the voltage going through the electromagnetic rails steadily dropping slowly until the train car was moving at a sedate speed.
          It's pretty easy to turn off the gas on a maglev train.
      • Security theatre at a railway station would be a much harder sell. Nobody is going to fly a train into a skyscraper. They're not going to have a lot of luck hijacking it either.

        However, they could detonate a bomb while it's moving at high speed, and the resulting accident would probably kill everyone on board. It's already been tried on the high speed AVE train in Spain but it was unsuccessful. Assuming Al Qaeda or a similar group does attempt to attack in the U.S. again, they will probably target mass tra

        • So you detonate a bomb in the security line at an airport the day before Thanksgiving. If you want to kill a bunch of people with a bomb, there are plenty of ways of doing that.
        • by owlnation ( 858981 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:10PM (#22327566)

          Assuming Al Qaeda or a similar group does attempt to attack in the U.S. again, they will probably target mass transit, just as they have in Spain and Britain.
          Smoke and mirrors. Sure they could. But if you block that route with heightened security measures then they can just take out a major road intersection or bridge, or many other possibilities -- essentially anywhere people gather is a security risk.

          If you buy the paranoia that is...

          If you believe that to be true, then the terrorists have won. Air travel is already a complete nightmare. After 6+ years of security threats you'd think that they would be able to come up with better ways of moving people through controlled spaces like airports, but no... they haven't. Lame really.

          The "risks" not worth the security measures. That's not freedom. That's not a society worth defending. Try living in the UK for a while, it makes you look at China and envy its liberty.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by HiThere ( 15173 )
            Your presumption is that they are attempting to safeguard people. Why do you believe that? It looks much more like "Let's see how scared we can get people to accept being". It's an old trick, long used by many religions. Get people frightened of something that they can't check, and use that fear to manipulate their actions.
      • by Lars T. ( 470328 )

        They're not going to have a lot of luck hijacking it either.
        Funny, "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" was just on TV. Of course, they didn't have much luck.
  • But maybe that'd be a bit too much of a disruptive technology.
    • What's such a big deal about that? First, who'd want it? And second, what's to stop someone rich enough who wants it from having it right now? Stereolithography costs as little as five figures USD. People buy more expensive cars.
  • by angryfirelord ( 1082111 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @07:41PM (#22327236)
    Only $1.2 billion for a space hotel? Heck, Microsoft should take that $44.6 billion and invest it into a Death Star! I'm sure Ballmer would like his new Vader costume. :)
  • Gundum (Score:4, Funny)

    by milsoRgen ( 1016505 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @07:47PM (#22327318) Homepage
    I'm totally on board for the mech, it's time to make these military conflicts entertaining enough for pay per view to help off set the costs of war.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Screw the Mobile Suits, I want the space colonies. Though I am happy that "Gundam" was the first word Wired used to describe mecha :)

      We could probably build an O'Neill cylinder [] (the type of colony used in Gundam) with today's techology. It would cost a fuckton of money just due to the size of the thing (the ISS is tiny in comparison), but we have the tech. All we need to do is put it together.
  • Wish List (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @07:50PM (#22327344) Journal
    * Flying car
    * Cheap Nuclear Power
    * Safe, Effective Diet Pill
    * Cheap TV Phone (nevermind, I don't look so hot in the morning)
    * Space Travel for the Mass
    * Cure for Cancer
    * Cure for the Common Cold
    * Artificial Intelligence approaching at least Dog Level
    * Appliances that Accept Voice Commands
    * Independence from Oil
    * 3D User Interface
    * Cybernetic Implants
    * Energy-beam Weapons
    * Easy-to-Maintain Personal Computers
    * Car Key Alternative - I hate looking for lost keys.
    * Non-Lethal Weaponry for Cops
    * Reliable Tires (or that fail gradually) - Tires are still based on air-filled balloon technology, making them problematic.
    * Reliable Car Battery
    * Scan & Download Brain to Cheat Death

    (Yes, I stole some from a wiki, but then again I added most of them to begin with)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by esampson ( 223745 )

      ...* Scan & Download Brain to Cheat Death

      I can never quite understand how people think that making a copy of themselves means they personally will live forever. The copy is a separate individual from you and when you die, you are dead. Granted there's now a copy of you running around but that's all it is, a copy. It isn't you.

      Think of it in the converse; if someone made a copy of you and the copy died would you be dead?

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        I can never quite understand how people think that making a copy of themselves means they personally will live forever. The copy is a separate individual from you and when you die, you are dead. Granted there's now a copy of you running around but that's all it is, a copy. It isn't you.

        If someone makes a copy of me and I'm either me or the copy, then I'm still me. If I take my install disk for Starcraft, copy it, then destroy the original, it will still install and run just as well on any computer. It's
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Knara ( 9377 )

          Much of the issue in this particular case is because of dualism, i.e. the idea of a soul. Even if we don't immediately realize it, most of us have an idea of some schmerg that makes me _me_. The idea that a clone of me is the same as me is hard to grasp, because we as individuals don't perceive other individuals as ourselves. As such, this disconnect results in the idea of, for lack of a better term, a "soul" which makes my consciousness a separate existence from another individual, even if that individu

      • by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:49PM (#22327988)

        I can never quite understand how people think that making a copy of themselves means they personally will live forever. The copy is a separate individual from you and when you die, you are dead. Granted there's now a copy of you running around but that's all it is, a copy. It isn't you.

        Think of it in the converse; if someone made a copy of you and the copy died would you be dead?
        That's easy. You still live. Now if someone made a copy of you and then you died, then the question becomes murky.

        Who are you? Are you an immortal spirit enshrouded the flesh by God's will? Are you merely a collection of ever-replaced tissues? Are you a nothing but a collection of memories on a replaceable meat substrate?

        If you develop Alzheimer's, are you still you? If you suffer brain damage that makes you mistake your wife for a hat, are you still you? If you take an antipsychotic to fight schizophrenia, are you still you? If you are captured by the military and broken under torture, are you still you? If a hypnotist attempting to bring up suppressed memories instead creates new ones for you, are you still you? If you get amnesia and have to relearn your former life through the testimony of those who knew you and your personal writings, are you still you?

        Can anyone else be you? Is a copy you? Are you still you if you're the copy? Are you the person you were copied from? Are you really the same person as the child you were many years ago?

        I don't present any answers. These questions are as deep as any religious question ever asked. You may find your answers to them come immediately and without need for consideration. You may find that they trouble you for years to come. You may find that it's a bunch of sophistry and blow it all off without an answer or any desire for one.

        But ultimately, people who believe in digital immortality have found their answer. It's probably different from yours and probably different from mine, but it's not really that hard to imagine their answers once you start pondering the essential question of who exactly *you* are.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Reemi ( 142518 )

      * A wife?
    • by olman ( 127310 )
      * Cheap Nuclear Power

      At the very least you can reuse nuclear fuel..

      * Safe, Effective Diet Pill

      One way or another this is going to involve making pretty harsh changes to either your metabolism or instincts. Latter we can hack already if you don't mind the schizophrenia from amphetamines.

      * Cheap TV Phone (nevermind, I don't look so hot in the morning)

      Uh already here? I already got one. Never used video calls thought.

      * Appliances that Accept Voice Commands

      See above. Also another feature I've never used.

      * Cyber
      • * Cybernetic Implants

        See above. Depends on what you mean by cybernetic exactly, thought. Sure you can't have minigun but instead you can have crappy eyesight or acceptable hearing with implants.

        That's a start, but it's not really "sci-fi tech" until we have implants which significantly exceed human capabilities: better than human eyesight and hearing, strength, etc. Think of the Six Million Dollar Man.
    • by Wildclaw ( 15718 )
      My wish list:

      * Wireless extremly high bandwidth long range communication unit.
      * Replicator, with lots of item blueprints (including all other items on my wishlist) downloadable via the communication unit
      * Energy device to power the replicator.

      Those are the three main ones. Add this one as a bonus:

      * Automatic doctor unit that can fix any injuries. Bonus if it can extend life.
    • Re:Wish List (Score:5, Informative)

      by sssssss27 ( 1117705 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @09:04PM (#22328142)
      Reliable Tires (or that fail gradually) - Tires are still based on air-filled balloon technology, making them problematic.

      Michelin is working on that, they call it a Tweel [] and it should be on production vehicles by 2016.
    • Re:Wish List (Score:4, Interesting)

      by PieSquared ( 867490 ) <isosceles2006&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @09:19PM (#22328292)
      Flying Car - you don't actually want this, you want quick easy transportation.

      Cheap Nuclear power - Well, if someone finds a scalable way to retrieve uranium from sea water or harvest He-3 from the moon (and a way to use it) we're good.

      Video chat - it's already cheap. Buy a webcam, find someone else with one, and pay your internet bills. What you want is for more people to buy webcams. And for your phone to be connected to your computer.

      Space travel for the masses - first you need a space destination for the masses. If you build it, they will come. But not for a while, and not until you have a destination. 20-50 years if people want it.

      Cure for cancer - see cure for common cold.

      Cure for common cold - Why bother with *just* the cold? Why not think big - mechanical immune replacement. Just build a tiny robot with a white list of what not to kill. Shape it like some really successful predator that's been around for a hundred million years. Strap a lazer to it. Then socialize medicine, because there's no money in a magical cure-all.

      Strong AI - Ten years. Well, not really. But something that passes a turning test, even if it's just simulating intelligence. Give it a few hundred terabytes or so of choices and pattern matching combined with AI a bit better then what we have now.

      Voice commanded appliances - Well, it might give you something not entirely unlike tea every time... but just connect all electronics in your house to your computer. Set it up like a mainframe and clients. Does your video-chat thing too.

      No more oil - see nuclear power.

      3D UI - not helpful. You get full voice input and some AI to make things easier by guessing what you're doing unless you ask for a command line... but 3D UI really doesn't help. Do you need to square your desktop? Does a browser with depth help? Are you going to wear polarized glasses so a screen can *be* 3D?

      Cybernetic Implants - Yea, sure. But not soon. You don't get to see one, unless they fix that death thing before... well before you die.

      Energy-beam weapons - NO. Seriously, not helpful. Kinetic energy is really more useful... I don't see any advantage to lazers and the like over just pushing things really fast.... lazers are faster but you can course adjust real "objects." And pack them with explosives.

      Easy-to-maintain PC's - Define "maintain." Ah fine, why not. Get redundant hard drives and processors, make full RAM+ROM backups and get a *serious* "undo" button. Shouldn't be that hard. Then rewrite your OS from the ground up so you can't screw it up. I'm talking make it so that you could click a button to fix anything wrong, because there's a list of every option and what value it has. Verify all relevant options are correct, and then fix anything that differs from the "standard" install.

      Keyless cars - Already have them. Fingerprint and so on.

      Non-lethal weapons for cops - they have those. They don't really help. What you need is more training and accountability.

      Tires that don't blow out or go flat overnight - Full rubber tires or auto-resealing tires. You can already get the kind that you can drive to a mechanic after what would have been a blowout... they have some kind of goo that driving fast plasters to the walls and is thick enough that it keeps air in but thin enough that it closes over holes. Solid rubber tires also exist for government officials... don't know if they're street legal, though.

      Reliable Car Batteries - you follow recommendations on lifetime and get a car that turns the lights off 10 minutes after you take the keys out and modern batteries are as reliable as they get. Unless you get solar panels to charge them or something, but honestly if a battery goes dead these days it's probably your fault... and it's getting harder to make such mistake
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by FooAtWFU ( 699187 )

        Cure for common cold - Why bother with *just* the cold? Why not think big - mechanical immune replacement. Just build a tiny robot with a white list of what not to kill. Shape it like some really successful predator that's been around for a hundred million years.

        Right. Because sharks are widely known for their successes at destroying viruses, bacteria, cancer, and other dangerous oceanic life forms.

        I did a robot project once, a little one. It was supposed to follow a dark black printed line around a racetrack, run three laps (the start/finish line marked by a line perpendicular to the track) and then stop. The hardest part of the darned project was getting it to recognize when to stop; it only had two little infrared sensors.

        Your little nano-robot toy is going

    • All you need to make an automatic translation machine are four pieces of technology, three of which by and large already exist. Speech recognition, OCR (for signs, etc), image editing (add subtitles on the fly), and machine translation software. Image editing already exists, and it's not even that hard to do to get something that can autogenerate subtitles -- if all else fails, shrink the picture and add subtitles in the now-empty space at the bottom.

      OCR exists. It would need its accuracy significantly
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hcdejong ( 561314 )
      * Safe, Effective Diet Pill

      Already there, albeit not in pill form. It's called the "Don't eat more than you need, dumbass" diet and is available free of charge anywhere in the world.
      Also, I'd say a diet pill is one of the hardest problems on the list, along with AI and cheating death. You'd have to find a way to cheat on the laws of thermodynamics.
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @07:52PM (#22327370) Journal
    wrong. They have this kind of wealth. If they build things that few others CAN do and create companies that can do high-speed maglev across the country, it would lower the transportation costs, energy usage, and build monster jobs. In fact, I would rather see a maglev be built from D.C. to NYC to Milwaukee. That would make that a true money maker. It would create a large number of jobs in there. From that point, they can shoot for Seattle and then down to LA, flowing all the way into Mexico. In addition, another branch from seattle up to alaska to the bering strait. This is doable for somebody with the kind of money that only a few have. Oh well.
  • All the big engineering projects of the last 20-30 years have been in either Europe or Asia (such as the Chunnel, Millau Viaduct, Kansai International Airport, etc.). All the US gets is the Shuttle and the ISS, which have both become a big turkey. Bugger the cost, I want to see a maglev from NY to LA with stops in Chicago and Denver.

  • by Telvin_3d ( 855514 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:04PM (#22327504)
    Whoever wrote this obviously didn't do too much research for the article. They managed to get through an entire section on the feasibility and cost of a space hotel without stumbling across Bigelow Aerospace [], who actually has a test bed in orbit right now.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Well that's a start. Then they'll need a test wardrobe, and a test kitchen, and a test bathroom. But yes, a test bed is a start.
  • While the floating city mentioned in the article is nice, it's interesting to contemplate the more general class of which it is an example of: Arcologies []. Huge megastructures that are cities unto themselves. Arcologies are a common thing in sci-fi, but how cool of one could we build if we were limited only by technology and engineering, and money was not the limiting factor?

  • by MrSteve007 ( 1000823 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:06PM (#22327528)
    The city of Seattle couldn't even do a monorail from downtown Seattle to the airport for 11 billion dollars . . . and the airport is only 14 miles away. The tax payers are still paying off that debacle. []

    There is no way in hell any public project could get across a state, let alone the entire country, for 70 billion. Sad hunh?

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:08PM (#22327552) Homepage
    How about silly things like real working public transportation?
    Passenger trains between cities, silly crap like that.

    For some reason here in the USA public transportation is considered evil.

    Great example? Detroit, why there are no elevated trains for transportation is insane. and Most cities in the USA has far to little public transportation.

    Also why a maglev from ny to LA? There are supertrains that haul ass pretty damn good. 24-36 hours from NY to LA is something that people would certianly pay for, and that's only a average of 90mph.

    • ... Why a maglev from NY to LA? We can do BETTER THAN THAT.

      Build a vacuum tube from NY to LA. Then maximum speed is limited by, well... not much, actually. Accelerate to orbital velocity, go weightless for a few minutes while still on the ground, arrive. The technology exists; the cost is even more ludicrous, but while we're dreaming, eh?

      In fact, hell, it's a vacuum tube. Damn thing's buoyant. Build it from London to LA.

    • No elevated trains in Detroit? You mean except for the people mover, which at least covers downtown, right?

      Granted, it's about the least useful form of public transportation imaginable (it doesn't connect to the actual train station or bus stations), but it does come in handy on game day.
    • by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:37PM (#22327838)
      From Wiki: since the opening of the LGV Est [a new rail link in France], a TGV covers the 104¾ miles (167.6 km) from Lorraine TGV station to Champagne-Ardenne TGV station in 36 minutes, at an average speed of 174.5 mph (279.3 km/h)[4]. This service calls at both stations and so is representative of a high-speed service with 100 mile stopping frequency. Moreover, the TGV that achieves these timings is only capable of 198 mph (320 km/h) ("only" because Spain just opened a line using trains capable of 350km/h).

      NY to LA is about 4000km, an average speed of 280km/h gives 14 hours if you stop every 100 miles (25 stops -- are there 25 places important enough to stop at en-route?). Using the faster Spanish train takes that down by 8.5%, 13 hours. Overnight+a little bit, that's pretty good! Obviously you can get a bed, full meals etc.

      But no :-( your government wants everyone to drive or fly. (Mine -- the UK -- currently isn't that much better outside of London. The current big transport issue is the expansion of Heathrow Airport, it's already the largest in the world but the government wants to make it 50% larger, to take 700000 flights (a year?). I'd rather see faster rail connections to mainland Europe from the rest of the UK, the reduced demand for short flights would free up space. It's still quicker to fly if you're going further than about Paris/Belgium, especially if you don't live very close to London since all the international trains can't go further north than London.)
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Slashidiot ( 1179447 )
        I happen to live just beside the LGV Est, and I have been working on the Spanish Madrid-Valladolid line. These are two amazing pieces of engineering, the new spanish line makes Madrid to Valladolid (211 km driving) in less than one hour, with one stop. The big advantages over flying are:

        - You don't have to be there more than 15 minutes in advance.
        - The train takes you to the center of the city.
        - You can have a train every 5 or 6 minutes, if there are a lot of passengers.
        - Much more fuel efficient. CO2 emiss
  • Carbon footprints? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tired and Emotional ( 750842 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:10PM (#22327570)
    $70bn really is not that much money - less than the Iraq war is costing us every year.

    But I wonder what the carbon footprint looks like? A plane at 35000 feet is in much thinner air and would not be able to fly LA to NY at a much lower altitude. The train will have to work in that thick air but will be a lot longer with presumably many more passengers and is not using aerodynamic lift. The propulsion system is also more energy efficient.

    So I have no idea which works out better. Anybody have numbers? One can of course argue that the maglev can use renewable energy, but that's a crock unless you have surplusses of renewable energy, which we don't.

    • by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:23PM (#22327674)
      I have no idea about maglev, but conventional high speed rail (current best is about 350kph or 220mph) claims to be about 10 times less carbon producing than the flights it replaces -- i.e. relatively short distance flights. Long haul flights are more efficient, but the train still wins. Also, the plane puts crap into the upper atmosphere (bad!) but the train can put it anywhere, since you get to choose where to site the power plant. The maglev is flexible in it's energy. The wheeled train has the advantage that if prices get really bad they can just slow down to save fuel.
  • by Randym ( 25779 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:16PM (#22327622)
    Really. Giant mirrors in space beaming solar energy down via microwaves to the Sahara [Africa], Gobi [Mongolia], Empty Quarter {Saudi Arabia] or Sonoran [Arizona, USA] deserts (chosen for their lack of people and access to nearby large populations) instantly solves the energy crisis. And they [] wouldn't be *that* expensive.

  • by Rufus211 ( 221883 ) <[gro.hsikcah] [ta] [todhsals-sufur]> on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:21PM (#22327664) Homepage
    The current projected price for an LA to SF conventional high-speed train is on the order of $30billion. That's for 500 miles and only going through the fairly small mountains around San Francisco.

    NY-LA is 5x as long, and has the freaking Rocky Mountains in the way. How exactly do they figure the $70bil price, even if it was a conventional high speed and not an exotic maglev?
  • by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:54PM (#22328028) Homepage Journal
    A maglev would be nice, but the kind of big money projects that intrigue me are semi-public works projects to make the country more disaster proof and help it adapt to global warming.


    Water pipelines and catch basins to help the West deal with mountain snowpack that is starting to melt too early. Part of the deal: Subsidize cisterns for new homes.

    A survivable, redundant national energy grid.

    Equip cities with a hardened emergency energy and communication infrastructure to keep traffic signals, police stations, hospitals, and the like going during a crisis.
  • Concorde (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Cowpat ( 788193 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @09:42PM (#22328458) Journal
    I heard a terrific series of lectures by an ex concorde pilot this past summer. There were a few points about its demise that he made that I'd like to pass on:
    • Concorde was profitable right up to the end, even including the massive overhaul costs; in its final year, 7 relatively low-capacity aircraft made £90m, whilst BA as a whole was making a loss.
    • The only reason BA stopped flying them was that the French wouldn't let them - the agreement under which they were originally built stated that both countries had to to keep flying their concordes and the French didn't want to keep flying theirs because THEIRS were unprofitable (because they operated them badly)
    • Also, the French hold the type certificate on the plane, so BA couldn't go even build new ones.
    • The original agreement also stated that BOAC, later BA, had to operate the British concordes; so even if Beardy Branson had purchased them, they'd still have been operated by BA staff, and if BA were going to be operating them, they'd damn well still be doing it with the planes in their own colours. Except they couldn't - see above. It was a publicity stunt and Branson knew it.
    So, to conclude, the reason that the only supersonic airliner is sitting rotting on the tarmac is because the French killed it, not BA. Also, the Paris crash was caused by Air France putting too much luggage on board and then overfilling the fuel tanks to give it enough to get across the Atlantic. (The tanks were supposed to be 97% full, the French filled them to 100%.)
  • by Loke the Dog ( 1054294 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @11:03PM (#22329310)
    New York - LA is not a good idea. The thing is, a Maglev could support a very large number of passengers per year, but its also very expensive, so it needs those passengers. To get so many passengers, you can't cater primarily to travellers, you need to cater to commuters, who will only start appearing if the travel time is less than one hour or something like that.

    But a maglev from Washington to New York via Baltimore and Philadelphia would be just over 200 miles, so a maglev going at 300 mph could easily do that in one hour. This would effectively tie these cities together and going between them could become an every day habit for millions. It would make the region the largest metropolitan area in the world and completely transform it.

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham