Technical Details of the Disney Monorail

Last Sunday, a tragic monorail crash at Walt Disney World (between the Pink and Purple trains) killed the driver of Purple, Austin Wuennenberg. In the aftermath, Disney closed the monorail system for investigation and there has been a surprising amount of web coverage of the incident from monorail experts and drivers. But one forum post caught my attention. Written by a former monorail driver (sorry, "railie"), the post is educated speculation about what might have happened. It's interesting mainly because the immense technical detail revealed about the monorail system -- including its safety features, and information about what drivers must do in order to override them. Below are a few snippets, after a YouTube slideshow that explains the crash in detail.

The system at Disney is called the MAPO system, or more precisely the Moving Blocklight System (MBS). It consists of a number of transmitters along the beam every 7-10 pylons or so that place RF signals of three different frequencies onto the positive buss bar (power rail), and a corresponding receiver in each train. The trains are wired with a capacitor that shorts the MAPO signals to ground, preventing any signals generated ahead of the train from getting past it. The transmitters are arranged sequentially around the beam- if any given transmitter is putting out frequency #1, then the next one will be emitting frequency #2, and the next one after that will have frequency #3. The one after that will be transmitting frequency #1 again, and the cycle continues all the way around the beam. The upshot of this is that in normal operation, the following distance should be such that there will be three or more transmitters between a given train and the train ahead of him, thus the following train will "see" all three frequencies, and the driver will have a green MBS light on his console.

...there are a number of situations where the MAPO system needs to be turned off, and for that, there's a "MAPO override" button on the console, which allows the driver to do just that. When MAPO override is active, the train is limited to 15 mph, and the driver has to continue to hold the button down to keep the system overridden. Some examples of when the system needs to be overridden are when trains are on any of the spurlines (since they have no MAPO transmitters), or when trains are being switched between beams.

Read the rest for an inside look at the Disney monorail system.

(Via Daring Fireball.)

Apple Wants to Patent a Keyboard You’re Allowed to Spill Coffee On

In the future, eating and drinking near your computer keyboard might not be such a dangerous game. On March 8, Apple filed a patent application for a keyboard designed to prevent liquids, crumbs, dust, and other “contaminants” from getting inside, Dezeen reports.

Apple has previously filed several patents—including one announced on March 15—surrounding the idea of a keyless keyboard that would work more like a trackpad or a touchscreen, using force-sensitive technology instead of mechanical keys. The new anti-crumb keyboard patent that Apple filed, however, doesn't get into the specifics of how the anti-contamination keyboard would work. It isn’t a patent for a specific product the company is going to debut anytime soon, necessarily, but a patent for a future product the company hopes to develop. So it’s hard to say how this extra-clean keyboard might work—possibly because Apple hasn’t fully figured that out yet. It’s just trying to lay down the legal groundwork for it.

Here’s how the patent describes the techniques the company might use in an anti-contaminant keyboard:

"These mechanisms may include membranes or gaskets that block contaminant ingress, structures such as brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps around key caps; funnels, skirts, bands, or other guard structures coupled to key caps that block contaminant ingress into and/or direct containments away from areas under the key caps; bellows that blast contaminants with forced gas out from around the key caps, into cavities in a substrate of the keyboard, and so on; and/or various active or passive mechanisms that drive containments away from the keyboard and/or prevent and/or alleviate containment ingress into and/or through the keyboard."

Thanks to a change in copyright law in 2011, the U.S. now gives ownership of an idea to the person who first files for a patent, not the person with the first working prototype. Apple is especially dogged about applying for patents, filing plenty of patents each year that never amount to much.

Still, they do reveal what the company is focusing on, like foldable phones (the subject of multiple patents in recent years) and even pizza boxes for its corporate cafeteria. Filing a lot of patents allows companies like Apple to claim the rights to intellectual property for technology the company is working on, even when there's no specific invention yet.

As The New York Times explained in 2012, “patent applications often try to encompass every potential aspect of a new technology,” rather than a specific approach. (This allows brands to sue competitors if they come out with something similar, as Apple has done with Samsung, HTC, and other companies over designs the company views as ripping off iPhone technology.)

That means it could be a while before we see a coffee-proof keyboard from Apple, if the company comes out with one at all. But we can dream.

[h/t Dezeen]

Google Adds 'Wheelchair Accessible' Option to Its Transit Maps

Google Maps is more than just a tool for getting from Point A to Point B. The app can highlight the traffic congestion on your route, show you restaurants and attractions nearby, and even estimate how crowded your destination is in real time. But until recently, people who use wheelchairs to get around had to look elsewhere to find routes that fit their needs. Now, Google is changing that: As Mashable reports, the company's Maps app now offers a wheelchair accessible option to users.

Anyone with the latest version of Google Maps can access the new feature. After opening the app, just enter your starting point and destination and select the public transit choices for your trip. Maps will automatically show you the quickest routes, but the stations it suggests aren't necessarily wheelchair accessible.

To narrow down your choices, hit "Options" in the blue bar above the recommended routes then scroll down to the bottom of the page to find "Wheelchair accessible." When that filter is checked, your list of routes will update to only show you bus stops and subways that are also accessible by ramp or elevator where there are stairs.

While it's a step in the right direction, the new accessibility feature isn't a perfect navigation tool for people using wheelchairs. Google Maps may be able to tell you if a station has an elevator, but it won't tell you if that elevator is out of service, an issue that's unfortunately common in major cities.

The wheelchair-accessible option launched in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney on March 15, and Google plans to expand it to more transit systems down the road.

[h/t Mashable]


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