Building the World

January 28, 2021
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TRANSPORT/SPACE: Can the Internet fly?

Google/Alphabet Loon. Image: wikimedia

Wave Goodbye to Loon. The visionary project, to beam down the Internet from floating balloons, called it quits. For nine years, Google/Alphabet sent up as many as 35 floating globes – the size of tennis courts – with the goal of transmitting internet capability to areas where land-based infrastructure is not feasible. Of course, the balloons used Google autonomous navigation technology to steer themselves. But this week, the start up wound down. In 2017, when Hurricane Maria wiped out Puerto Rico’s telecommunications system, Loon helped to get the island back online. Another good outcome: Telkom, a telecommunications company in Kenya, inked a deal to bring 4G to remote areas. Because almost half the world does not yet have internet access, it’s a big market. Land-based technologies picked low-lying fruit, but there is still room for growth – above.

Starlink satellites stacked and ready to launch. Image: SpaceX and wikimedia commons.

Flying internet is a rapidly developing sector. Since early days of COMSAT, satellites are proving better vehicles for connectivity, even to what some call “notspots” (Kleinman 2021) with a vision of bringing the whole world online. It’s a movement that recalls the achievements such as the telephone and telegraph (connections were laid under the tracks of the Transcontinental Railroad). Here are some satellite enterprises delivering broadband internet today – and tomorrow:

FLYING INTERNET PROVIDERS

Apple – A plan to develop their own satellites prompted Apple to recruit two Google satellite experts: John Fenwick and Michael Trela will work with Greg Duffy, Dropcam founder who joined Apple recently. Apple may partner with Boeing to launch more than 1,00 low-orbit satellites.

Starlink –  Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink will require 42,000 satellites. SpaceX launched 60 satellites on 20 January 2021 to tally 1,015 so far (only 951 are still in orbit). In 2020, SpaceX carried out 14 launches. Possible subscription: $99 monthly fee + $499 for hardware.

OneWeb – Founded in 2014 by Greg Wyler, OneWeb re-emerged from potential bankruptcy with help from Bharti Global and UK government. 648 satellites will form OneWeb network constellation. Development of terminals is with Intellian Technologies and Collins Aerospace. Customers? While at first it was rural folks (OneWeb promises they won’t be overlooked), now it is telecom companies. Second generation satellites will include intelligence and security capabilities. New funding from SoftBank Group Corp and Hughes Network Systems/EchoStar tallied $1.4 billion in funding to put first-generation fleet in place in 2022.

Project Kuiper Constellation  – Funded by Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s satellite project plans to launch 3,236 satellites. In March 2019, Project Kuiper filed with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and Federal Communications Commission. The satellite array will orbit at three altitudes: 784 satellites at 367 miles (590 kilometers); 1,296 satellites at 379 miles (610 kilometers), and 1,156 satellites at 391 miles (630 kilometers). The plan is to provide coverage from latitude 56 degrees north to 56 degrees south – that’s where 95% of the world’s people live. (Boyle 2019)

Telesat – With priority Ka-band spectrum rights and a fifty-year history of technical prowess, Telesat Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will link to customer terminals and electronically steered antennas (ESAs) for commercial, government, and military use. The first launch happened in January 2018.

LeoSat – The vision was a constellation of 78 -108 satellites but in 2019 the company laid off its 13 employees after investors dropped support. The investors were Hispasat, Spanish satellite operator, and Sky Perfect JSat of Japan. LeoSat still exists but for now is dormant.

Viasat – This satellite system offers internet access from geosynchronous orbit. New entrants like Starlink, OneWeb, Kuiper, Telesat will use Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for lower latency and lower cost.

03b – Using medium Earth orbit (MEO), this constellation offers fiber-equivalent connection. The prime contractor is Arianespace for the operator SES Networks.

Athena Facebook filed with the Federal Communications Commission to launch Athena to provide broadband access to “unserved and underserved” areas of the world. The filing included a new name: PointView Tech LLC.

Boeing – The aerospace giant plans to launch and operate 147 satellites for a broadband constellation. Apple may help.

Satellites: a traffic jam in the sky? Can astronomers still see the stars? Image: Starlink, initial phase  – wikimedia.

PROBLEMS: Are satellite constellations the new Milky Way, or are we creating the same kind of traffic jam above that we suffer from on land? Some astronomers already report difficulty in seeing the sky. Negative comments from astronomers caused Starlink satellites to come up with a visor that prevents sun reflection, reducing glare – its a sub-company called VisorSat. OneWeb chair Sunil Bharti Mittal pledges environmental stewardship, working with astronomers on issues like reflectivity. (Amos, 2020) And then there is the problem of space debris: getting satellites up is easier than getting them down,

OPPORTUNITIES: Why are so many players entering the flying internet competition. Opportunity: Morgan Stanley projected that “the global space industry could generate revenue of $1.1 trillion or more in  2040, up from $350 billion today.” (Conroy 2019) Of that, $410 billion will come from satellite-based internet services.

GPS Constellation. Image: wikimedia

Amos, Jonathan. “OneWeb satellite company launches into new era.” 18 December 2020. BBC.com

Boyle, Alan. “Amazon to offer broadband access from orbit with 3,236-satellite ‘Project Kuiper’ Constellation.” 4 April 2019. GeekWire. https://www.geekwire.com/2019/amazon-project-kuiper-broadband-satellite/

Foust, Jeff. “SpaceX surpasses 1,000-satellite mark in latest Starlink launch.” 20 January 2021. SpaceNews.com. https://spacenews.com/spacex-surpasses-1000-satellite-mark-in-latest-starlink-launch/

Henry, Caleb. “LeoSat, absent investors, shuts down.” 13 November 2019. SpaceNews.com. https://spacenews.com/leosat-absent-investors-shuts-down/

Kleinman, Zoe. “Satellites beat balloons in race for flying internet.” 25 January 2020. BBC.com/Tech. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55770141

Matsakis, Louise. “Facebook Confirms It’s Working on a New Internet Satellite.” 28 July 2018. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/facebook-confirms-its-working-on-new-internet-satellite/

OneWeb. “OneWeb Secures Investment from Softbank and Hughes Network Systems.” 15 January 2021. https://www.oneweb.world/media-center/oneweb-secures-investment-from-softbank-and-hughes-network-systems

Raymundo, Oscar. “Apple is reportedly looking to put broadband-beaming satellites into orbit.” 21 April 2017. Macworld. https://www.macworld.com/article/3191474/apple-is-reportedly-looking-to-put-broadband-beaming-satellites-into-orbit.html

Yan Huang, Michelle, Bob Hunt, David Mosher. “What Elon Musk’s 42,000 Starlink satellites could do for – and to – planet Earth.” 9 October 2020. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-elon-musk-42000-starlink-satellites-earth-effects-stars-2020-10

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

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April 13, 2020
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TRANSPORT: Trains as Mobile Medical System

India is rebuilding trains as rolling hospital wards, refitting coaches into care facilities with 16 beds. Indian Railways is modifying 20,000 carriage coaches, for a total of 320,000 new isolation pods, announcing the program on the same week COVID-19 cases increased by 1,637 infections and 38 deaths. Sports stadiums are also being deployed: Assam’s Sarusajai stadium will hold 1,000 patients, while Chandigarth’s complex will become a temporary jail to impound those who violate lockdown policy. (Singh 2020).

India’s rail system. Image: wikimedia.

Using trains for public health and education is not a new idea. When the Canadian Pacific Railway opened, special purpose carriages were a regular part of the route. Trains brought health care and education to previously unreachable places. Children saw a teacher once-a-week in a classroom car, then homeschooled until the next whistle stop. The Trans-Siberian railway and Russia’s rail system offered options like mobile therapy.

FIVE REASONS FOR USING TRAINS AS MOBILE MEDICAL SYSTEM

Trains, with their flexible number of carriages, can be configured to custom purposes.

Another factor? Speed and access. Amtrak is the only railroad in North America that holds right-of-way service speed: many stretches of track are certified and maintained for speeds up to 100+ miles per hour (160+ kph) on routes with no other traffic.

A third factor? Idle. With the advent of air travel and the building of the United States Federal Highway System, trains were already second class. Add stay-at-home lockdowns and social distancing for those few who must travel, and you’ve got a lot of idle equipment.

A fourth factor? Expensive to maintain idle. Planes, buses, and trains are all idle. Planes can be parked, buses can use roads already serviced for general vehicles. But trains require tracks and that means specialized maintenance.

A fifth factor? Subsidized, anyway.

“Red Cross Train, France” by Harold Septimus Power, 1918. Imperial War Museum, Art.IWM.ART 1031 Wikimedia

Proposal: use Amtrak train network as a mobile medical system. India shows that trains can easily be retrofitted as hospital wards, isolation units. And why not rolling ventilator-ready beds with the respiratory equipment already installed? Governor Andrew Cuomo announced New York will send medical equipment to the next peak place. The virus is a rolling phenomenon: a rolling response is a good option.

Amtrak system map. Image: wikimedia

The United States Transcontinental Railroad once transformed and united a country. Now, can rails help address the virus crisis? Afterwards, American rail needs rebuilding, anyway; repurposing medical cars will offer a chance to rethink Amtrak. Will Japan’s Shinkansen, upgraded with maglev trains reaching 374 mph for the Tokyo Olympics, be an inspiration? One hopeful step is Amtrak’s strategic agreement with Alstom (2016) to produce 28 next-gen equipment to replace the Acela Express now entering 20 years of service. The new transit format is due to roll out in 2022, a timeframe parallel with virus response needed now. Many countries have train systems; this idea is scalable. But at the moment, the United States is experiencing an urgent medical crisis. We need every idea and every option. Let’s use sections of Amtrak as a mobile medical system.

Alstom. “Alstom to provide Amtrak with its new generation of high-speed train.” 26 August 2016. https://www.alstom.com/press-releases-news/2016/8/alstom-to-provide-amtrak-with-its-new-generation-of-high-speed-train/

Amtrak.https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/projects/dotcom/english/public/documents/corporate/nationalfactsheets/National-Fact-Sheet-FY2016-0717.pdf

Congressional Budget Office. “Federal Subsidies for Rail Passenger Service: An Assessment of Amtrak.” https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/2018-10/41955-Amtrak.pdf

Japan Rail. “New Maglev Trains for Debut at Tokyo Olympics” Tokyo Summer Olympics Guide. https://www.jrailpass.com/blog/tokyo-2020-olympics.

Singh, Charanjit. “India turns trains into isolation wards as COVID-19 cases rise.” Charanjit Singh, quoted in the article, explains that Chandigarh’s temporary jail is a day’s sentence to education on sanitation and public health, before being released that evening to go home and stay there. 2 April 2020. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/india-turns-trains-isolation-wards-covid-19-cases-rise-200402071515155.html

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unpo

 

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July 25, 2019
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TRANSPORT: Flygskam (Flight Shame)

“C-141 Starlifter over Antarctica.” Photographer Gralo. Image: wikimedia.

Flight shame, or as coined in Sweden “Flygskam,” is taking off. The movement prompted France to levy a flight tax ranging from 2-18 euros. KLM celebrated its 100th anniversary with a campaign urging passengers to fly less, stating that aviation causes 3% of human-caused carbon emissions. Recommended transport alternative for short distances: trains. Japan is upgrading fast-train system, Shinkansen, in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Channel Tunnel and EuroStar encouraged travelers to take the train. Will the United States, developer of the market-changing Transcontinental Railroad, redesign tracks for mag-lev or hyper-loop?

Greta Thunberg speaking at French Parliament 2019. Image: wikimedia.

Flygskam began when Olympic gold medalist Bjorn Ferry, and others championed the movement including climate activist Greta Thunberg; the teen nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize completed a climate-change European speaking tour mostly by train, urging travelers to forgo short-haul flying. As linguists note, every neologism might give rise to its opposite: now there is a new term:Tagskryt” or “train bragging.”

BBC. “What is flygskam? Greta speaks up about ‘flight-shaming.'” 19 July 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/49032117/

Elking, Isaac and Robert Windle. “Examining Differences in Short-Haul and Long-Haul Markets in US Commercial Airline Passenger Demand.” Transportation Journal. Vol. 53, No. 4 (Fall 2014), pp. 424-452. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/transportationj.53.4.0424.

KLM. “Fly Responsibly.” https://flyresponsibly.klm.com/en

Pennetier, Marine and Geert De Clereq. “France to tax flights from its airports, airline shares fall.” 9 July 2019. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/aticle/us-france-airlines-tax/france-plans-new-tax-on-outbound-flights-airline-shares-fall-idUSKCN1U412B.

PRI. Public Radio International. “‘Flight shame’ in Sweden prompts rail-only travel movement.” 30 April 2019. PRI’s The World. https://www.pri.org/stories/2019-04-30/flight-shame-sweden-promts-rail-only-travel-movement.

Thunberg, Greta. “Speech at French Parliament” 23 July 2019. @GretaThunberg. https://mobile.twitter.com/gretathunberg/status/1153940926517194752/ and https://www.facebook.com/gretathunbergsweden/

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen

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July 6, 2018
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New York/London: 2 Hours or New York/Shanghai: 30 minutes

Hypersonic 51A “Waverider” from US Airforce. Image: wikimedia.

Faster: that’s the quest of transport. From wheel to rail, from sail to steam, from wing to rocket, the history of transportation might be summed up in one word: speed. Speed changes economies: when the Transcontinental Railroad connected the United States, travel from coast to coast went from several months to just 10 days. Two new developments may set a new pace. Boeing announced development of a hypersonic jet with the speed of 3,800 mph, cutting the current 7 hour New York to London trip to 2 hours. Not fast enough? Why not hop a ride on BFR that may fly from New York to Shanghai in 30 minutes, when it is not landing on Mars, predicted by 2022, by Elon Musk of SpaceX.

Musk, Elon. “BFR: Earth to Earth.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqE-ultsWt0.

Wattles, Jackie. “Boeing’s hypersonic passenger plane could get you from New York to London in 2 hours.” 27 June 2018. CNN tech. http://money.cnn.com/2018/06/27/technology/future/boeing-hypersonic-plane-concept/index.html.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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May 10, 2018
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Hail to the Ride

Didi’s app logo. Image: wikimedia.

Next time you hail a ride, consider this: China’s ride-hailing market is already greater than the entire world’s combined, at $30 billion. The United States ride-hailing market is $12 billion. A report by Bain & Company predicts China’s market will soon double. China’s equivalent of Uber and Lyft is Didi Chuxing. In fact, Didi bought out Uber’s China operations in 2016, giving the company instead a 18% stake in Didi. But only 40% of ride requests arrive via the Didi app; equally powerful are Tencent’s WeChat and Alibaba’s Allpay. Order movie tickets and dinner along with your ride? Do it in one click with Meituan Dianping, with 320 million users. Bain’s Raymond Tsang estimates China’s ride-hailing market will reach $72 billion by 2020. The advent of self-driving vehicles may be part of the strategy: Didi is an AI and autonomous conglomerate. When the United States Transcontinental Railroad was built, telegraph communications infrastructure was laid under the tracks. Will ride-hailing vehicle and communications infrastructure be planned as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, bringing the New Silk Road into the future?

Pham, Sherisse. “China’s $30 billion ride-hailing market could double by 2020.” 15 May 2018. CNN. http://money.cnn.com/2018/05/15/technology/china-ride-hailing-market/index.html. Includes link to a video on Didi’s expansion into Brazil.

Alibaba Holding Group: stock symbol: BABA

Didi Chuxing: http://ww.didichuxing.com

Tencent: stock symbol: TCEHY

For telegraph infrastructure combined with transport building, see sections 18 and 19 of “An Act to aid in the Construction of a Railroad and Telegraph Line,” 1 July, 1862. Building the World, pages 237-238.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

 

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March 11, 2018
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Spring Forward!

“Daylight Saving Time.” Transparency by Daniel FR. Wikimedia.

Did you spring forward, overnight? Daylight Saving Time(DST) refers to advancing clocks in the springtime. The first national practice of adjusting timepieces to lengthen summer evenings began on 30 April 1916, in Europe. It was not long after the very notion of time zones had been adopted by the world. Transport led to temporal coordination. Noting accidents when trains from opposite directions tried to coordinate during the early days of the United States Transcontinental Railroad, using runners carrying little slips called “flimsies,” Sandford Fleming, chief engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway, suggested a world time zone system, described in “Terrestrial Time.” The idea was adopted at the 1884 International Prime Meridian Conference. Daylight Saving Time (DST) was proposed in 1895 by New Zealander George Vernon Hudson, an entomologist who wanted more time in the evening to observe insects. What will you do with your extra hour?

International Prime Meridian Conference text: https://archive.org/details/cihm_03131

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January 1, 2018
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2018: Celebrate the 8’s

“Green 8 in a Sea of Blue.” Earth Observatory Image: https://eoimages.gsfc.nasa.gov.

Seen from space, the Americas look a bit like a green 8 in a sea of blue. One glance reveals our planet is made of regions, not nations. Rivers do not stop at lines arbitrarily drawn on a map: transboundary waters are shared resources. Another interconnection: land use, including transport. Great rail systems of history such as the Trans-Siberian or Canadian Pacific railways redefined connection through rapidly advancing transit technologies. Now, electric highways, autonomous vehicles, and hyperloop transit could link continents in innovation.

In 2018, Canada, Mexico, and the United States debate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Negotiations should include transboundary water resources; legal precedent of the Colorado River Compact may help address current considerations. Nafta truckers could pioneer automated highways that might steer negotiations. But Nafta may be too small to address macro issues.

Is it now time to extend the north american discussion, to a broader regional scope? Afta Nafta. Decisions about water quality in one nation may impact another; transit links continents, not countries. Oceans may ultimately determine the fate of cities: from Natal to New York, many are coastal. What if everyone in the Americas learned at least one of the languages of their neighbors? Language-based education and cultural exchange might stir innovation in areas such as shared water resources, intelligent highways, public health, and rights. Could there be a regional tour of beauty, instead of a tour of duty? Xchange students and volunteers could form corps maintaining readiness for disaster response (by definition, regional) while practicing environmental service, in an updated CCC of the Americas. Potential logo? Green 8 in a Circle of Blue.

It might be noted that 8, viewed on the horizontal plane, is the infinity symbol. System scientists may suggest that two interconnecting loops could form a renewing system. The infinity symbol was the creation, in 1655, of John Wallis (he also served as chief cryptographer for Parliament). Whether it remains infinite or not, our shared environment depends upon our actions. Perhaps it is time to dedicate at least one year, per decade, to improvement of our shared resources: celebrate the 8’s by honoring interconnection.

“Infinity Symbol” Image: wikimedia commons

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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August 25, 2017
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Zoom…

Trains that fly? In tubes? Hyperloop has reached another milestone. Image of a Copenhagen pipe tunnel, Wikimedia.

Hyperloop has achieved another milestone: the first trial run of the passenger pod destined to carry commuters from Los Angeles to San Francisco at 650 miles per hour. Transportation advances have changed the world. China’s Grand Canal transformed a region into a nation; the New Silk Road may link 40% of the world. Once united by the Golden Spike, the Transcontinental Railroad shortened the trek across the United States from six months to 10 days. The Erie Canal reduced the cost of shipping goods from Buffalo to New York City from $100 to $10. The Channel Tunnel made breakfast in London and lunch in Paris an everyday occurrence. Now, with Hyperloop, London/Paris transit time could be 25 minutes; Dubai to Abu Dhabi: 12 minutes. What advances in business, culture, and perhaps even cooperation and peace, might come from a more connected future?

For a video test ride: http://www.bbc.com/news/av/technology-40811172/hyperloop-one-passenger-pod-tested-successfully

To calculate time between any two destinations: https://hyperloop-one.com

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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May 26, 2017
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Golden Opportunity? Coal to Wind

“Green River of Wyoming.” Artist, Thomas Moran, 1878. Image: wikimedia commons

A golden opportunity may be dawning, not only for energy but for employment, from coal to wind. There’s precedent: many workers on the Transcontinental Railroad were “navvies” – a term coined to describe those who built navigable waterways including the Erie Canal. Skills in technologies, combined with the ability to work in remote locations: these are the same valuable traits that may now transform the coal industry. Carbon County, Wyoming, is launching a job training program for coal miners to become wind farm technicians. Wyoming produces more coal than any other American state; but geography makes it ideal for wind, with 850 turbines planned, perhaps leading to a change in tax policy.  Job training is free, offered by Goldwind, a leading wind turbine manufacturer in Urumqi, Xinjiang, China, famous hub of the Silk Road. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal: will the celebration include the training and development of workers who changed the American economy? Might the future feature transformation from coal to wind, as skilled workers take on new industries to rebuild energy and environment?

Baeumier, Axel, Ede Ijjasa-Vasque, Shomik Mehndirrata, eds. Sustainable Low-Carbon City Development in China. The World Bank, 2012. ISBN: 9780821389881 (ebook).

Cardwell, Diane. “Wind Project in Wyoming Envisions Coal Miners as Trainees.” 21 May 2017. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/21/business/energy-environment/wind-turbine-job-training-wyoming.html?_r=0

Goldwind. In Chinese: http://goldwind.cn; in English: http://www.goldwindglobal.com/web/index.do

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November 18, 2016
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In A Timely Fashion

Minutensprunguhr: by Hk kng. Wikimedia commons.

Today is the birthday of time, it might be said. On 18 November, 1883, the General Railroad Time Convention agreed that a new time standard would take effect. It was just in time. Cities and towns used to set their clocks at noon: noon being one moment in Chicago and quite another in Los Angeles. Such a system proved imperfect when railroads began to stream across the continent: how could train times be coordinated? Public safety demanded a solution; it came from Sandford Fleming, surveyor on the Canadian Pacific Railway route. The Canadian Pacific and the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad came together (even before the Canadian Pacific was completed) and agreed jointly on a system of time zones. Eventually the idea gathered such force that the entire world became galvanized by this innovation. In 1884, the International Prime Meridian Conference, held in Washington, DC, endorsed and inaugurated a worldwide system of time zones. Ever wonder why we say “9am” or “9pm?” The suffix stands for ante-meridiem or post-meridiem. How many other whole world agreements have been universal?

For more:

McNamara, Robert. “Why We Have Time Zones.” http://history1800s.about.com/od/railroadbuilding/fl/Why-We-Have-Time-Zones.htm?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

 

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