Wednesday, March 4, 2009

About “Reinventing the Wheel”

By Karl Vilacoba

First, I’d like to thank Professor Jerry Schneider for his assistance with this story. His Innovative Transportation Technologies website is a great resource, and I would encourage anyone reading this blog to browse it when you have some free time.

Over 100 transportation systems are being tracked on Schneider’s website, and boiling them down to a list of only a dozen or so to profile was not easy. To be clear, this was not meant as one of those “10 Most Important” or “10 Technologies You Must Know About” kinds of features. My goal was simply to introduce a sample of these inventions to a broad audience who probably never heard of any of them.

I wanted to show a variety of systems – a little bit of everything, from PRTs to alternative cars to freight movers to pedestrian innovations. Each capsule was meant as a brief overview with links to sites where readers can learn more. I don’t endorse any of these systems, nor do I offer any predictions about whether they’ll succeed in the marketplace.

I started off by perusing all of the systems on the website’s matrix and choosing about a dozen that grabbed my attention. I asked Professor Schneider to recommend some systems I should consider, and to look over my list and advise me of any potential red flags. Our lists had some overlap, and I eliminated a few that were too similar to others. While the odds are that many of these innovations will never see the light of day, I sometimes gave a little extra weight to those that seemed feasible – far along in the development stages, financially well-backed or under serious consideration by legitimate clients (countries, cities, big corporations, etc.), for instance.

Finally, one or two never panned out because the companies’ contact people weren’t responsive (check your e-mails!), but those cases were the exception to the rule. When I reached out for more information, it wasn’t unusual to be called back by the CEO or the inventor themselves. Often they were one and the same.

I believe that’s a good indicator of how competitive this field is. These companies don’t get much media attention, so when an opportunity came, they put their top people in touch and were very accommodating (although some of these companies consist of staffs you can count on one hand). It was one of several factors that made this one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve worked on over the past few years.

Anyone have any favorites of the systems I profiled? Any thoughts on whether these systems could work in your city?

1 comment:

Jerry Roane said...

TriTrack is in this crowd but it is faster at 180 mph and cheaper at $170,000 per mile of guideway. It would seem that the choice you made on which systems to advocate were not based on value to the consumer or cost to the government. In the solar-ready version it uses no fossil fuel and pollutes zero. It delivers the user to the actual door of their destination all at 5 cents a mile energy cost in the initial roll out version.