Futurist, Eric Hunting writes:
One of the interesting effects of advancing technology is a progressive reduction in economies of scale in many industries and systems. Some of the bottleneck technologies you note do have some interesting, if still speculative, alternatives.
New proposed systems like SkyTran or Hyperloop have significantly lower economies of scale than conventional rail–deliberately so because they find themselves challenged by political conservatives increasingly resistant to ‘big ticket’ infrastructure investments.
There have also been small scale systems overlooked in the conventional urban context,
like cable car systems or, one of my favorites, the ‘banana monorail’ which has been experimentally adapted to passenger use in the developing world context.
These have always looked like a lot of fun to me, and could have potential space applications as the supports for the cableway can be designed to be self-supporting and quick-deployable.
The WireRoad (TarBato in Nepali) is a low-cost, pedal-powered monorail transport system for people and goods, modified by EcoSystems/VillageTech Solutions from an original technology called the ‘banana cableway’. Those industrial systems cover many hundred thousand kilometers, and carry ‘trains’ of bananas, pulled by a worker who walks under the wire. EcoSystems modified the cableway to provide an alternative all-weather, self-propelled transport system, with low environmental impact, using human- or electric-power. In agricultural areas, it can pass over the fields, so it does not displace agricultural use of the lands.
In Cambodia there was an aid program to encourage rural development through the supply of a kind of simple general purpose modular motor that could be adapted to many uses. One of the ingenious uses devised by locals was a simple rail car that could be used on the long-abandoned traditional rail system. Called the ‘bamboo train’, these have now become something of a tourist attraction in themselves.
These trains run through the countryside around Battambang in Cambodia. They are an incredibly simple design and as the name suggest are made of a considerable amount of bamboo, which gives great strength for little weight. They run on the old railway lines that were built by the French when Cambodia was still a colony. So who gets right of way? Well the rule is the train with the most passengers gets right of way. However if a train is carrying a motorbike it has right of way over a train carrying more passengers. However everyone seems to take it in their stride and help each other out in taking the trains off the tracks.
Shipping now finds competition, at least in some niches, from revived sailing vessels, such as the Fair Trade Cruisers which now travel to the under-served markets of West Africa and South America. With the benefit of new
technology, new kinds of sailing vessels based on technologies like rigid solar wingsails, offer potential to make this increasingly viable.
I think these things represent a long term trend in the Post-Industrial era.
Industrial demassification is driven by the shrinking economies of scale afforded by advancing technology–one of the key factors eroding Industrial Age paradigms from within.