Beijing company unveils “straddling bus” design to beat traffic jams

A Beijing company has unveiled spectacularly futuristic designs for a pollution-busting, elevated bus capable of gliding over the nightmarish mega-jams for which urban China has become notorious.

Plans for the so-called Transit Explore Bus or TEB were showcased earlier this month at a technology expo in the Chinese capital.

The “straddling bus”…is supported by two legs that run along rails laid along the roadside…Those legs allow the TEB’s giant frame to glide high above the gridlock at speeds of up to 60km per hour. Equally, vehicles that are less than two metres high will be able to drive freely underneath the bus, even when it is stationary…

Song claimed his buses, capable of transporting up to 1,400 commuters, could be produced for 20% of the price of an underground train and rolled out far more quickly since the supporting infrastructure was relatively simple.

One TEB could replace 40 conventional buses, he said.

Every logistics specialist who has ever worked in warehouse management knows about solutions like this. Folks tend to forget about the “cube” that exists above measured square footage of floor space.

All modern warehouses, automated or not, now use vertical storage in some manner. The same can be used to solve traffic problems without the cost of tunneling or traditional elevated railroad systems requiring expensive structural support.

And it looks cool and futuristic, eh?🙂

Pic of the day

Click to enlarge

The cantilevered building at the center is the world headquarters of CCTV, China Central Television. On a global stage, they are a provider of news the size and class of competitors like the BBC World Service. Their English-language service speaks to 85 million homes.

And, yes, like many Americans I have access to their programming through CCTV-America. Unlike many Americans, I actually watch a number of their programs. Parochialism is one of the worst characteristics defining Americans.

Anyway – this is about their headquarters building in Beijing. Most photos I’ve seen were from below looking up at the cantilevered shapes. This photo describes what I think may have also been key to the architects, Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren. The setting of cross streets echoing the sharp angles of the structure.

Stunning. And a great photo.

2 cities and 2 ways of moving forward against smog

Click to enlargeAltaf Qadri, AP

Two cities. Two very polluted cities. And two very different ways of dealing with twin public health crises.

When Beijing’s air was forecast to reach hazardous levels for three straight days earlier in December, the government issued a smog red alert. The result: Half the city’s cars were off the roads within hours, schools were closed and construction sites shut down. Less than three days later, pollution levels had dropped by 30 percent.

When New Delhi’s winter air grew so bad that a high court warned that “it seems like we are living in a gas chamber,” the city’s top official declared that cars would be restricted starting Jan. 1, with odd and even license plates taking turns on the roads. But police officials quickly announced they hadn’t been consulted, and said they’d have trouble enforcing the rule. Plus, no one could fully explain how the already overstretched public transit system could absorb millions of additional commuters overnight.

So, well, maybe the whole plan will be scrapped…

Long famous for its toxic air, Beijing is struggling to lose that reputation, bowing to pressure from a growing middle class to keep pollution under control. Traffic is regularly restricted in the city, factories have been moved and the central government is anxious to ratchet down the country’s use of coal-burning power plants.

And New Delhi, which by many measures now has far more polluted air than Beijing? So far, the environmental court — which has only quasi-legal powers — has ordered that no diesel cars be registered in the city for the next few weeks, and has discouraged the government from buying diesels for government fleets. Officials, meanwhile, have suggested everything from car-free days to planting more trees to dedicated bus lanes.

It amounts to little more than vague promises, and is resulting in increasingly angry headlines…

❝”In China, whenever you talk about PM2.5 (one of the most dangerous forms of airborne particulate matter), everybody knows what that is, it’s pollution. But once you raise the same questions in Delhi, it seems like not many people care about that. And yet, the level of pollution in Delhi is more than five times” higher than in Beijing, said Yann Boquillod, a longtime Beijing resident who co-founded Air Visual, a startup that crunches pollution data and weather information to predict air quality…

In China, an authoritarian system makes policy changes much more straightforward than in India, where a chaotic and widely corrupt government makes it easier for polluters to avoid regulations.

China has made a very serious and concerted effort to fight air pollution in the past few years,” said Lauri Myllyvitra, Greenpeace’s global campaigner on coal. She said Beijing’s success came when it realized the problem had to be addressed regionally, not just in the city.

“Our greatest hope is that India will not waste a decade trying to address a regional problem locally … but will move much faster to put in place regional action plans for cleaner energy sources and fuels, as well as meaningful emission standards and enforcement,” she said…

Our politicians learned long ago to describe serious questions in political terms instead of economics. You can fuss with the former for decades without actually changing anything. So, India is described as a great democracy while that nation’s corruption has surpassed China – while China has moved in the other direction to begin to counter historically-accepted levels of corruption.

But, much of the difference remains economic. Though it may take Beijing as long as London or Los Angeles to overcome smog problems, China can afford to make the needed changes. India can’t. Not yet. They will need assistance whether their politicians care to admit it or not.

Deep Learning Machine surpasses humans in IQ test

University of Science and Technology China, Hefei

Just over 100 years ago, the German psychologist William Stern introduced the intelligence quotient test as a way of evaluating human intelligence. Since then, IQ tests have become a standard feature of modern life and are used to determine children’s suitability for schools and adults’ ability to perform jobs.

These tests usually contain three categories of questions: logic questions such as patterns in sequences of images, mathematical questions such as finding patterns in sequences of numbers and verbal reasoning questions, which are based around analogies, classifications, as well as synonyms and antonyms.

It is this last category that has interested Huazheng Wang and pals at the University of Science and Technology of China and Bin Gao and buddies at Microsoft Research in Beijing. Computers have never been good at these. Pose a verbal reasoning question to a natural language processing machine and its performance will be poor, much worse than the average human ability.

Today, that changes thanks to Huazheng and pals who have built a deep learning machine that outperforms the average human ability to answer verbal reasoning questions for the first time…

Huazheng and buddies devised an algorithm for solving natural language verbal questions using standard vector methods but also the multi-sense upgrade they’ve developed.

They compare this deep learning technique with other algorithmic approaches to verbal reasoning tests and also with the ability of humans to do it. For this, they posed the questions to 200 humans gathered via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing facility along with basic information about their ages and educational background.

And the results are impressive. “To our surprise, the average performance of human beings is a little lower than that of our proposed method,” they say.

Human performance on these tests tends to correlate with educational background. So people with a high school education tend to do least well, while those with a bachelor’s degree do better and those with a doctorate perform best. “Our model can reach the intelligence level between the people with the bachelor degrees and those with the master degrees,” say Huazheng and co…

Deep learning techniques are currently sweeping through computer science like wildfire and the revolution they are creating is still in its early stages. There’s no telling where this revolution will take us but one thing is for sure: William Stern would be amazed.

Every chucklehead writing articles that conclude artificial intelligence, computational analysis and reasoning will never pass a Turing test is shuttered from reality. Much less useful. The best minds already predict the opposite even if it takes the usual road to scientific success – recognition one death at a time. As the old farts or those who think like old farts die off, reality moves progress beyond the ennui of culture.

RTFA for the reasoning employed by Huazheng in development of their deep learning machine.

China expands ban on coal to suburbs

Click to enlarge12,000 died in the London smog of winter, 1952

China will expand its bans on coal burning to include suburban areas as well as city centers in efforts to tackle air pollution…

Detailing its clean coal action plan 2015-2020, the National Energy Administration (NEA) said it would promote centralized heating and power supply by natural gas and renewables, replacing scattered heat and power engines fueled by low quality coal.

The world’s biggest coal consumer will ban sale and burning of high-ash and high-sulphur coal in the worst affected regions including city clusters surrounding Beijing.

If you’ve been around as long as I have – and your memory still works – you recall the two-pronged solution to air pollution and smog has been this simple for decades.

After World War 2 the worst smog in the world belonged to London. Just like Beijing, the problem not only was coal-fired electricity generation; but, coal-fired home heating and cooking. It took a couple of decades; but, the last mile solution of getting natural gas to homes took care of the worst of it.

In Beijing and other polluted Chinese cities renewable energy sources are phasing out the portion of pollution coming from soft coal-fired electricity and, now, the government has dropped the other shoe and will end reliance on coal for home fires.

Under the action plan, coal-fired industrial boilers will all shift to burn natural gas or clean coal by 2020 in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei city clusters, Pearl River delta and Yangtze River delta area…

The government will offer subsidies for clean fuels

Natural gas will serve as the first level of carbon reduction as wind power and solar power continue the most dramatic expansion in the world.

France uses new law allowing it to ban half the cars in Paris

Paris smog
Click to enlarge

Tomorrow will be an odd day in Paris. The government has triggered a pollution control law which allows it to ban half the private cars in the greater Paris area.

Cars with registrations ending in odd numbers will be allowed to drive today. If the air pollution alert continues, it will be the turn of the even-numbered cars on Tuesday.

Over 1,000 police officers will be mobilised to hand €22 on-the-spot fines to offenders. The law, first triggered last year, allows the government to limit traffic if micro-particles in the atmosphere rise above 50 microgrammes a cubic metre.

The use of the law has provoked a spat in recent days between two of France’s best-known female Socialist politicians.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, asked for the restrictions to be imposed last Friday. The environment ministers, Ségolène Royal, complained that a ban on even-numbered cars without advance warning would be a “punitive” attack on suburban commuters.

The two women have a long-standing quarrel, believed to be private in origin. President François Hollande intervened. He ruled in favour of Ms Hidalgo and against his former romantic partner, Ms Royal.

You won’t see much about this in the mainstream media in the US, of course. In the eyes of the American Establishment the only only air pollution in the world that’s dangerous is in Beijing.

In truth, there are long-standing reasons for much of the air pollution in the world – including geography and topography. Which everyone living in Albuquerque or Denver well knows. Correcting the political economy at the root of most air pollution takes time measured in decades, no magic bullets. Beijing’s problem is almost identical to the cause of London’s famous smog – not the fog – and will take longer to clear than current solutions aimed at transport and electric power generation.

Half of Beijing’s smog comes from coal-fired home fires used for heating and cooking. That will take a network of natural gas pipelines to resolve. Right down to the last mile, the last block, house-by-house.

And in related news? In Los Angeles, exposure to both nitrogen dioxide and small particulates has dropped dramatically since the late 1990s.

Children living in five notoriously smoggy parts of greater Los Angeles showed improved lung growth of about 10% between the ages of 11 and 15, compared with children at the same age 20 years ago.

It’s a never-ending fight, folks. Albuquerque’s determination that MTBE added to winter gasoline also increased deadly smog led to the removal of what was a common additive. And more whining.

China’s capital to begin replacing some coal-fired plants

Auld Reekie

China will replace four coal-burning heating plants in the capital Beijing with natural gas fired ones by the end of next year as it steps up efforts to clean up pollution…

The report, citing the city’s Municipal Commission of Development and Reform, said the four plants and some 40 other related projects would cost around $8 billion and cut sulphur dioxide emissions by 10,000 metric tons. It did not detail the related projects.

The plan is the latest step by authorities to deal with a persistent smog crisis in China’s big cities that is fuelling public anger. The capital has been shrouded in thick hazardous smog for several days during the ongoing seven-day national holiday.

China has been under pressure to tackle air pollution to douse potential unrest as an increasingly affluent urban populace turns against a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has besmirched much of China’s air, water and soil.

Last month the government announced plans to slash coal consumption and close polluting mills, factories and smelters, though experts said implementing the targets would be a major challenge.

The new plants will replace four coal-fired ones that provide heating for homes in the city’s central urban area as well as generating electricity, Xinhua said.

Beijing is the Auld Reekie of the 21st Century. For those of you who don’t know the term, it described Edinburgh [and London] not only in the years before World War 2, but, especially afterwards during the efforts to ramp industrial production back up to speed in the UK.

Then, as now, though industrial use was a significant portion of the air pollution, everyone’s attachment to their wee coal fire heating the main rooms of home was a tough cultural obstacle – just as central to established urban life in Beijing. The solution has to be the same – replacing those coal fires with natural gas or electricity generated by means other than burning coal.

The cost of bringing large volumes of natural gas to locations in and around Beijing also lays the groundwork for local provision and access to that cleaner substitute for coal. Smart idea.

World’s longest high-speed railway debuts in China

The world’s fastest trains ready to roll — Click to enlarge

The world’s longest high-speed rail line, which spans over half of China, began operating on Wednesday, further cementing the country’s high-speed railway development ambitions.

Two trains departed from stations in Beijing and Guangzhou at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., respectively, to mark the opening of the 2,298-km line.

Running at an average speed of 300 km per hour, the new route cuts travel time between Beijing and Guangzhou from over 20 hours to about eight.

A total of 155 pairs of trains will run on the new line daily and alternative schedules have been made for weekends and peak travel times, according to the Ministry of Railways…

There will still be 183 pairs of trains running daily on the old Beijing-Guangzhou line that runs parallel to the high-speed line, allaying concerns that the new line will increase passengers’ travel costs.

A second-class seat on the new high-speed line costs $138 while a sleeper on the old line sells for around half that amount…

With the opening of the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed line, China now has more than 9,300 km of high-speed rails in operation.

The new line is one of four north-south lines expected to serve as a backbone for the country’s planned high-speed railway network, which also features four east-west lines…

Research by the Development Research Center of the State Council showed that the Beijing-Zhengzhou section of the new high-speed line will add $44 billion to the country’s GDP by 2030…

The full operation of the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed railway will accelerate China’s urbanization progress, as it will help large cities to better perform their role as central cities, boost the development of medium-sized cities along the route and foster the birth and development of new small cities and towns, said Sun Shuli, a chief engineer responsible for designing sections of the new line.

I’m a fan of any kind of railroad that runs quiet and reasonably fast. Our own shiny new railroad connecting north/south in central New Mexico is quiet, on time, and not especially fast. Though it has a roadbed capable of high speeds.

I sort of knew the opening run of the bullet trains was happening, yesterday [US time], from mentions on the news on CCTV9; but, wasn’t paying close attention. It was a kick when I switched to the channel mid-afternoon and realized I was watching a live feed of the train setting forth from Beijing’s central RR station. Cameras along the track and inside the engine and passenger cars showed the kind of excitement I know I would have felt to be on such a trip.

Obama and his administration have a clear idea of the benefits of high-speed rail to our economy and logistics in general. Congress and conservatives owned pretty much lock, stock and barrel by motor freight and fossil fuel industries couldn’t care less. I doubt if we’ll see any success at repairing existing infrastructure much less upgrades to our rail network – in this century.