Model Railroading's Future is Almost Here!

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by Bill Stone, Dec 10, 2003.

  1. Bill Stone

    Bill Stone Member

    I often see or hear discussions about the future of model railroading, but these frequently center around what new models might become available. There’s a far more exiting prospect in the not-too-distant future that has the potential of eliminating one of the major PITA (Pains In The A**) of our hobby.

    Imagine how great it would be to not rely on the rails to transmit power. I mean NO electrical connections to the rails at all (except perhaps for signaling circuits.) Forget all that wiring and rail soldering. Forget blocks. Forget worries about frogs. Forget insulated wheels. Forget short circuits. Even worry less about clean rails.

    The era of the DMFC is near. For over five years, Motorola, Duracell, Toshiba and NEC (and perhaps others) have been developing the Direct Methanol Fuel Cell - also known as the micro fuel cell - which will likely replace batteries in the near future. These are little things, which produce more power for far longer than batteries can store. And this is not pie-in-the-sky “future speak”. You can expect to see them in laptop computers in about 12 months!

    It will take a while to get them downsized enough for the smaller scales, but within a year or so they’ll likely be practical for O scale and larger, and since they are intended to eventually eliminate the need for all batteries in just about all applications, they should fit into HO locos in the not-to-distant future.

    I imagine that DCC will still communicate through the rails, but this wouldn’t require insulated rails or wheels, and certainly radio control will be the way to go in the long run. This is a sort of full circle thing. Back in the 1940's, model railroaders gave up the simplicity and advantages of third rail for the realism (but complexities) of two-rail. Soon we’ll be able to have the best of both worlds.

  2. Tyson Rayles

    Tyson Rayles Active Member

    Hitting the bottle kinda early in the day aren't you? :D :D :D

    All kidding aside the timetable is more like:
    3-4 years for O-scale
    Price will be hundreds of dollars over the cost of the loco itself
    Will be available to the smaller scales in 4-5 years at twice the
    In 6-8 years it will be affordable and they will have all the
    bugs worked out
    By this time I'm dead so who cares???? :p :rolleyes: :D :D :D

    Really I think this is great, but probably to late for me to get excited about it.
  3. N Gauger

    N Gauger 1:20.3 Train Addict

    I've heard about them too. The prices & reliability will be practical for G gauge in 6-8 years. should be really a great thing too. :) :)
  4. rcwatkins

    rcwatkins Member

    That sounds cool! :)
  5. Bill Stone

    Bill Stone Member

    Tyson, Tyson, Tyson..... What a pessimist!

    I stopped expecting too little of the high-tech industry about 1984. You see, in 1980, some guy named Steve Jobs had called me and wanted to fly me up to San Jose for lunch to talk to me about running industrial design for his little company. What was it? Named for a fruit. Oh, yes..... Apple. But this Jobs guy had some screwy idea that he could sell home computers. I figured he was nuts. No one except a few nerds would ever buy home computers, and I wasn’t about to relocate for a company that couldn’t last more than a few months. So I turned down the lunch. He called a second time, but I firmly told him no.....

    Smart, huh?

    If these guys developing the DMFC expect to be able to replace batteries in most or all appliance applications, I doubt if they expect to sell the things for hundreds of dollars. To compete with batteries, they’ll have to COMPETE with batteries, so they’ll have to be relatively cheap. And my sources swear they are far enough along to get them into laptops in a year.

    Of course the things will be producing a little bit of water. I wonder if you'll get your lap wet every time you use a laptop.....

  6. Vic

    Vic Active Member

    Behind The Times

    Shoot Bill and Tyson.....That aint nothing new:eek: ...I've been pulling my trains around on the floor with a string for years:D :D :D :D :D :D

    Seriously, I hope I'm around to at least see the prototype of that:thumb:
  7. Tyson Rayles

    Tyson Rayles Active Member

    Glad you didn't take that job Bill, Macs lasted about as long as 8 tracks (except in the publishing industry), schools here got rid of em' in the early 90's. Closest dealer now is Atlanta Ga., 8 hour round trip. Only reason I know that is up till last year I worked in the pub. industry and if a puter went down we knew it would be 3 days before it would be up again! Think the powers to be would switch to PC's??? :D :D :D Nope! I retired and they are in deep financial doo-doo, seems the puter stupidity wasn't the only place they were short-sighted. :p :D
  8. Ralph

    Ralph's for fun!

    That would be such a cool development!!!!!! <wistful sigh>
  9. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    Who knows what we will have in the future. Maybe halographic model railroads that can be designed and changed and shut down when not in use. Just set it up wherever, run it then turn it off when done. These DMFC really sound promising.
  10. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    ...and old fogies like me'll be putterin' along, snappin' up all that good old timey stuff at pennies on the dollar an' havin' a grand old time.:D :D :D ;) :thumb:
  11. CN1

    CN1 Active Member

    If there's money involved, it will be reality.

    I think it will be here sooner then 10 years from now..
  12. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    Guys,As I have mention before DCC will be replaced.Of course many jeered me for that but I knew the way progress in technology is DCC will be replaced.However I will keep my DCC till it gets to old to find parts or to expensive to maintain and sneak back into DC and watch the fuel cells get replaced should I live that long-heck I am to ornery to die..:D

    Guys,I think it will be a lot sooner then we realize..

    Now I can just hear the Fuel Cell flag wavers when this happens.LOL!
  13. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    It is exciting for many apps, but you still need isolated rails and good pickup to get DCC to the loco, unless you run overhead wire, or go wireless (RC). I would expect wireless, otherwise what would be the point?
  14. Vic

    Vic Active Member

    Its Closer Than You Think

    Actually, some of what we are discussing is already in place minus the fuel cell. Example: Large scale trains being run by batteries and the types of radios used to fly R/C airplanes. These radios use a digital encode/decode scheme to send the commands to the various devices such as speed controllers, electronic (solid state) reversing switches and etc.

    I would suspect that full integration of an operational protocol similar to DCC with a self contained/self renewing power supplies and wireless operation is just around the corner. Dirty track won't matter!!!!

    It may already be here but here in "the armpit of the South" we are usually the last to know anything.:D :D :D
  15. TR-Flyer

    TR-Flyer Member

    How will they get that wonderful "ozone" smell if everything is battery powered?!?! What! No more sparks!?!?!?
  16. Jaws

    Jaws New Member

    Now you’ve got me thinking again which is always a painful process.

    How is this for a subject. . . Railroading's Future is Almost Past!

    Shucks, for several years they’ve been pushing around ideas like the dirigible and similar devices to do away with railroads as we know them. Someday in the not too distant future such a technology will undoubtedly prevail and we will no longer have railroads — as we know them today — to model. They’ll probably be powered by DMFCs and controlled by computers hundreds of miles away, gaily flying through the air or on a bed of electrons.

    Heck, ‘man’ power is already practically a thing of the past in many parts of industry. Automated switching, dispatching and containerized packaging are already commonplace in railroading. Add radio controlled helper and other computerized devices and we’ll soon all be sitting around doing . . . what?

    What then? Have I wasted my heirs inheritances on nothing? Should I not buy any more DCC or locos or rolling stock? Maybe I should just concentrate on building my locomotive cab and playing with my simulator (or as my better half calls it, my ‘stimulator’) Better yet, the rest of my vast fortune should be devoted to a stockpile of feed and seed and an acre in the country. (I can't afford the acre but there is always 'Public Land'.

    When everything is automated, the BORG won’t have anyone with the wherewithal to purchase anything at all and our least worry will be modeling trains. Perhaps eventually a new civilization may evolve by barter.

    My brain has nearly frozen nearly solid at this point. Did I really write the above?

    Oh well . . .
  17. Tyson Rayles

    Tyson Rayles Active Member

    Jack you been double dipping on your meds again? :p :rolleyes: :D
  18. grumbeast

    grumbeast Member

    Hi Tyson,

    not too be total nerd, but just a bit of info re the MAC dying
    comment. Apple have 18% of the world market share in PC's

    sure thats not 50:50 but 18% of a number that big does tend
    to indicate a substantial market in more than just publishing!

    :D :D

    sorry to be a bit of an evangelist!

  19. Bill Stone

    Bill Stone Member

    .....and if I'd have taken that job in 1980, I'd have been super-wealthy (or dead from overwork) inside of five years!
  20. RailRon

    RailRon Active Member

    Let me dream a little bit...

    Locos run on self-contained fuel cells. Great - no more block switches, no problem with dirty wheels and bad power pickup. Ok, so these cells are producing some water - but did you ever see a steam loco which isn't dripping water all around? No problem there... :rolleyes:
    Commands are radio-transmitted to the engines, using some sort of modified DCC code. Finally dirty rails are really no problem anymore. Hah... Imagine to shove a boxcar into a siding with realistically dirty, rusted rails! A degree of realism we couldn't have now! :cool:

    Sounds really good, ain't it?

    Now for a little change of the scenario: I'm happily accelerating a freight out of the yard, when suddenly my neighbor powers up his ham radio station. As usual my TV and FM radio goes berserk... and so does my loco control. Bye bye control! There goes your new brass Challenger full blast over the edge of the layout... :eek: :( :mad: :mad:
    The industrial sidings which I have switched for an hour are finally soaking wet from the cell-produced water. The track isn't only rusty now, it's also wobbly and out of gauge, because the glue in the ballast softens up and ties become warped. All the cars are derailing - there goes the fun of switching... :( :( :mad: :curse:

    Hehehe, of course I'm just kidding - the prospect of such a high-tech future really looks promising. And yes, Bill is right - never underestimate the speed of development of technology! But surely we'll have to wait for quite some years until such high-tech is coming 'down' to the level of model railroads. I'm optimistic insofar as I think that model railroaders will develop such stuff - and then it could really have a future in our hobby. (Take DCC - today it is a great technology. And it started out of some electronic diddling of Bernd Lenz, a German model railroader more than 10 years ago.)

    Robin, your vision of holographic layouts doesn't frighten me too much. The next best thing to it today is TRAINZ, a great simulation program which allows you to 'construct' and 'run' model trains on the computer. I have it, and I used it a lot - until I started my real layout. And since then I hardly ever used the program again. Nothing beats the thrill of working on and operating a three-dimensional real world layout. :thumb: :) :) :)

    And if you can enhance realistic operation - just let the new developments come! Some of them will be fine, others will be flops - now isn't the future of our hobby exciting? :wave:


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