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Ropeways (aka: aerial tramways)
  • One of the reasons I got excited about this project was that several technologies that I consider promising, but have never been able to get anybody else interested in, are listed here in articles that clearly show that they've been studied and understood.

    One that really excites me is ropeways. Ten years ago, a fellow Rotarian here in Mindanao mentioned his plan of wanting to build a ropeway from City Hall to the city's major landmark, Mount Agad-Agad. City Hall is at about 40 meters, the mountain at about 500m. That started me studying ropeways, and I quickly learned that, far from being expensive transport systems suitable only for tourists and skiers, they are the LEAST expensive way to move goods, and their advantage gets larger, the rougher the terrain. I quickly accumulated every bit of technical information I could get, including the very rare Swiss Army manuals on their portable ropeway sets (now retired) the US Army's old manuals and civil engineering texts in English, French and German.

    On Mindanao, the good agricultural land is inland and the major markets are on the coast, but road connections from the central plateau to the coast are few and overburdened. Produce farmed in Bukidnon reaches Iligan by way of Cagayan de Oro, so an artichoke grown only sixty km from here has to travel four times as far to get here. Cost is higher and freshness lower, as you might expect. A direct road connection to Bukidnon province is fully surveyed, but has been on hold for twenty years due to the expense of building it. A friend of mine who works for a local NGO helped me work out a transportation system for the Philippines and other archipelagic countries that would use hovercraft on the mostly silted-up rivers for the major thoroughfares, and ropeways to connect the farms to the rivers. Ropeways can be made portable in the smaller sizes, which opens the possibility of seasonally relocating them according to cropping patterns.

    I've been trying to enter some discussion text on the Ropeways page in the wiki, but apparently my Forum logon doesn't work for the wiki. Very frustrating.
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  • In the past I used to teach a class on constructing basic rope bridges. It was fun. I particularly enjoyed the surprise I observed when a group of third grade students built a bridge that supported a rather large woman.

    We would build use and deconstruct the bridges in about two hours.

    At that same camp we build geodomes in several hours from start to finish. With minor modifications I could see using them as abodes at FactorE.
  • I like the possibility of ropeways opening to development and utilization otherwise inaccessible areas - farmland that is isolated by a river, or steep terrain.  Some of the cheapest land in the country is cheap because its inaccessible. 
  • I've heard of this, under the name "string transport", which refers to the city-to-city/interstate version of this technology.

    Its this moving at 300 - 500 kmph.
  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    January 2012
    I've gotten into ropeways too. They really do have more uses then people think about and benefit by being simple and cheap.

    Glad it uses the Low-Tech article but within Ropeway transport there are Gondolas and Aerial Trams.

    Aerial trams have less capacity but can be made cheaper and faster. Trams can also turn corners easier (, but they have to be in one direction.

    The Philippines have been having success with tramlines, “agricultural tramlines are indeed more cost-efficient than constructing farm-to-market roads (FMRs).”
  • More cost effective in the short term or more cost effective overall?
  • According to Seth_K's linked articles the Phillipine systems have a unit cost of $40,000 US each and are used in mountainous terrain.  I can see in that environment they could cost less than roads.  Overhead cables have the benefit of minimal impact on the ground, but for OSE purposes, you would want it to be flexible (in the sense of you can change it and move it) and modular.  So one thing I would look at is decoupling the propulsion from the cargo module.  So one trip you carry people in a cabin, and another trip you carry a load of lumber.  You need some mechanism to attach/detach different loads.  Fixed cableways are only one dimensional systems.  I would consider how you could do three dimensional transport.  The string transport video shows inverted arch supports that a truck runs along.  Now imagine two sets of arches in parallel, with an arch running crossways on rails, with a lift that can pick up and drop things.  Effectively that is like a bridge crane that is used in factory buildings, but outdoors and larger.

    Now, can you take that idea and make the whole system portable, so if circumstances change, you can move it around, add new sections, etc?  And still keep a useful load?  And then how does it compare to building roads for construction projects?
  • I guess what I meant was how does the cost of ownership compare? If anything goes wrong with a surface road then, at worst, you stop moving. If anything goes wrong with THAT "road" you're going to have a nasty fall. If a vehicle blocks a surface road you just go around it or push it out of the way. If a vehicle blocks that wire road you'd better get it moving because you're not getting a tow truck out to it. If you want to get out of a vehicle on a surface road you just, you know, get out. If you want to get out of a vehicle suspended in the air you just, you know, don't get out. Also, it doesn't look like the sort of thing I'd be willing to drive on during high winds.

    So, while it might be cheaper to build than a surface road, it seems (intuitively) that it would be far more expensive to use over the long term. Maybe not expensive to the guy who built it, but expensive to the guys who use it.

    Although...maybe you could use it for bootstrapping. Build the wire road along the path you want to build a surface road, then people could use it if they wanted. Based on how popular it is, you could decide whether or not to build the surface road. If you decide to build the surface road you can put one or more cranes on the wire road and drive materials trucks out to them. That way you can build the surface road out of modular stilts, or simply build it normally but faster because you already have a road next to the construction site. Then you could move the wire road to a different place. Rinse and repeat.
  • Oh, the truck driving over the top of the wires is completely scary.  I was thinking more in terms of a hanging gondola propelled by a wheeled bogey clamped onto a rail in such a way it can't fall off.  The rail is supported by a suspension arch so it doesn't sag and can span longer distances.  That takes care of the longer distance axial transport (the road replacement). At a construction site, you have a shorter span running crosswise between two rails, with a hoist that can run along that span.  That's the same as how bridge cranes work in industrial buildings, except this would be outdoors and temporary.  The idea is to not have to chop down trees or otherwise do a lot of heavy construction in order to get into a site.  It may not be practical, you would have to run the numbers to compare it to conventional site work (which I am all to familiar with having built a house in the woods).

    If a bogey dies en-route, I would design it so you can bring up a spare, rehook the load to the spare, then unlock the broken one from the track and take it back to the shop.  The bogey is just wheels to run on the track, and a motor to turn them, and some kind of hook/latch mechanism to grab loads.  Assuming you have power along the track, it just feeds off that.  For a low capacity system, actual power line poles could be the supports.  For a single use construction project, I suspect a 4-wheeler with a utility trailer and a minimal dirt road is the cheapest solution (or the equivalent OSE vehicle).  For a high traffic road replacement, I'm not sure about the relevance to OSE, we are not in the business of designing major infrastructure.
  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    January 2012
    Gondolas can work with detachable cabins. They are accelerated to match the rope speed and then clamp on. Different cabins can carry different goods (they have been used to move cattle).

    The benefit is that you don't have to carry the engine, it can be big, heavy, and efficient because it just pulls the rope.
  • I suppose gondolas would make sense if you're designing the settlement from scratch. As long as you know that you want to move something from place A to place B, and absolutely no where else, for a long time, they're perfect.
  • What about... instead of dedicated gondolas... developing gondola harnesses for attachment of standardized international shipping containers? 
    1. Load up the container with cattle, or soybeans, or onions, or cheese, or whatever.
    2. Attach the gondola carriage to the weight bearing points of the container.
    3. Convey and attach the container/gondola to the cable.  Wave goodbye.
    4. Detach container/gondola at receiving end, where developed roads exist.
    5. Detach gondola harness and ship the container to market via truck, and if applicable, cargo ship.

    The tramway concept is also much more versatile than "from A to B, and nowhere else".  They can be designed, much like rail, as a network with hubs where they branch off to different connecting routes.  And these routes may or may not interconnect at other places, depending on the needs of the system.

  • I just meant that mass transit systems are less flexible than personal vehicle systems.

    The shipping container idea is a good one. Those things are nice. It looks like there is already a lot of engineering accomplished in terms of moving suspended shipping containers. They do seem to move pretty slowly, tho.

    A conveyor belt of any kind is most practical when you have a constant supply of things for it to convey. It wouldn't make much sense as a farm-to-market road because farms work in batches; the conveyor would be sitting idle too much of the time. You'd need to figure out a way for it to connect things that pretty much always have to exchange something. At a minimum, it would need to be running along side several batch-type places so that at least one of them is always transporting something. Also, you'd need centralized management, or a much more complicated infrastructure. 

    Maybe you could just use that monorail idea but it could have a tramway-style rope running alongside it. The monorail supports the weight of the shipping container and the rope supplies the motion. When you want to put something on it, you just wait for a gap and push your shipping container onto the main track from a spur line, then attach it to the constantly moving rope. When it gets where it needs to go someone detaches it and pushes it off the main track. You wouldn't want to miss it...then I suppose you'd have to wait for it to come around again.

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