Author Topic: The best ways to get around Mars  (Read 117520 times)

Offline Hyperion5

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The best ways to get around Mars
« on: 08/20/2013 07:01 PM »
A lot of people have put a ton of thought into getting to Mars, terraforming it, expanding living space and landing on Mars here on NSF.  However, I found there doesn't seem to be a lot of thought given to how best to move around once we get there.  Let's face it, transportation and the logistics of it are going to be hugely important on Mars.  For any martian colony to succeed, it's vital that it gets this right.  So just what are the best ways for getting around and moving large amounts of material on the Red Planet? 

Rovers

From the very earliest days of any Martian colony, rovers are going to be a must.  The first issue is the best way of powering them.  The Curiosity rover, which crawls along the martian surface at abysmally slow speeds by human standards, is powered by a single Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) that provides a mere 110 watts of power.  The plus side to its low efficiency (it produces 2000 watts of heat energy) is that Curiosity will literally have decades of working power available to it despite slow declines in power output per year.  In my quest to create this thread, I reached out to several forum members to hear their thoughts on how the early and later rovers ought to be powered. 

RockmanUS' take:

Battery backs. Quick removal and install by robotics. Exchange at power stations.  

-The essence of this idea is that it relies on proven technology we have today in modified form (see Telsa) for Mars.  Every so often along a route you'd simply set up a charging station to swap batteries or recharge them.  From an efficiency perspective I suspect it'd be the best option for travel along established roads and limited distances away from base.  Also, given the world's wealthiest Mars enthusiast is also CEO of Tesla, I see a real possibility of this being implemented.  The one downside is batteries tend to lose charge over time, so it would not be a great option for travel away from settled areas. 

Steven Pietrobon's take:
 
Another option is a LOX/LCH4 internal combustion engine. This was looked at in the NASA and Zubrin studies. Current RTG's are not powerful enough (see how slowly Curiosity moves). Stirling cycle RTG's might work, as they are more efficient in converting heat into power. Power would still be pretty low.

-To me this option also makes a lot of sense, especially for travel away from base.  You can get the oxygen & carbon required straight out of the martian atmosphere, while, thanks to martian soil being 5-60% water by weight, hydrogen shouldn't be too hard to acquire either.  Although you'd need some tank insulation, there would be no danger of losing range each day like an electric rover would, allowing expeditions farther from base.  Also, until it becomes possible to manufacture batteries on Mars, the tech for this would be easier to do.  The big downside I see is the energy efficiency would definitely not be as high as a battery-powered rover and probably require nuclear energy to do all the ISRU work reliably. 

My take:

I'd probably install Stirling-cycle RTGs on the early rovers flown to Mars for use as their backup & life support power source.  To keep things simple for early rovers built on Mars, I'd probably do ISRU and build methalox internal combustion engines for them.  Later on, as the colony becomes more established, I'd probably switch over to a Tesla-like setup due to its greater energy efficiency for most vehicles (except expeditionary & exploration vehicles). 

Roads

Then there's the matter of establishing roads as the colony steadily grows larger.  I'm going to take a wild guess that due to Mars' composition and history that concrete roads are probably not an easy possibility.  If I'm wrong do let me know.  Again, as before, there seems to be no universal agreement on how to build a martian road. 

RocketmanUS' take:

Just level the ground and clear the rocks.  For new or paths not used much just move around step grades and rocks.  For steep grades or canyons use cables.

-There's a simplicity in this approach that I like, and for the early colony, it would make a ton of sense.  Later on though I suspect you'd need something more durable than a graded pathway as martian trucks began moving around. 

Steven Pietrobon's take:

Smelt iron-rich Mars dirt into steel and make tracks. Probably need to hefty nuclear reactor to do that.

-While a lot more energy-intensive than the other approach, this makes a lot of sense in terms of enabling higher speeds and bigger loads.  If you can't use concrete, then why not use the materials at hand and build a metal road?  The obvious downside is this approach probably can't be used until later on, when you have both the power and the traffic to justify it. 

My take:

I'd probably merely do grading and clearing of rocks early on, followed by adding gravel to enable heavier loads a few years later.  After the colony is more established, a metal road to enable high-speed heavy payload deliveries and rapid personal transit would be a must. 

Railroads

The ultimate form of transportation on Mars is likely to be railroads.  They're more energy-efficient than rovers, they would be able to haul far more and at greater speeds, and would be an ideal way to move people around in large numbers from town to town.  But what's the best way to power them? 

Atomic energy

-It's not as crazy as it sounds, because the Russians via Rosatom are building one of these as we speak.  The obvious advantage is no need to refuel for years, the enormous amounts of power you could generate (allowing it to be a moving power plant), and the fact that Mars has plenty of uranium.  The obvious downside is radioactive contamination in event of a deadly derailment.  This however could be avoided if you were to use more expensive (but safer & more efficient) magnetic levitation trains. 

Electricity

-It's safe, reliable, efficient and proven, but would require a lot of costly infrastructure that would be hard to justify for the initial low population levels. 

Methalox Internal Combustion Engine

-Another proven piece of technology, this would enable long-distance rail travel for heavy payloads with a minimum of infrastructure, which sounds like exactly what you'd need on Mars.  The obvious downside is the need for ISRU & insulation of propellant tanks. 

When it comes to rail, the one advantage is you'd be starting with a clean slate.  You would not need to adapt a less-than-ideal gauge (track width) or deal with outdated infrastructure.  I'd be curious as to whether people think the early railroads ought to be run by private corporations or the early martian authorities.  I personally would go with a large gauge, like 2000 mm, in order to maximize martian railroads' freight and people-hauling potential. 


Flying

This obviously is one area where things would initially be the most difficult.  The initial options so far as I can see would be vacuum or hydrogen airships and airplanes that look a lot like U-2 spy planes.  Due to atmospheric density being ~1/100th that of earth, propellers are probably not going to be used, so what will?  Feel free to sound off! 

There are a ton of other issues, mainly infrastructure-related, with martian transport, but we can get into those later on the thread.  In the meantime, let me, Steven and Rocketman know just what you think are the best options for moving around on Mars.  I'm sure more than a few people will come up with different ideas than ours!   










« Last Edit: 08/21/2013 05:27 AM by Hyperion5 »

Offline guckyfan

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #1 on: 08/20/2013 08:47 PM »
For early rovers it will be batterypacks that can be swapped, I agree. But I doubt RTGs will be available. They are also heavy and expensive as backups. Maybe small solar panels so they can limp back when the battery gets accidentally empty.

As fuel for combustion engines later maybe just CO plus O2. No need for digging water at fuelling stations, just solar panels and CO2 from the air may be easier for ISRU.

Trains on tracks I don't know. Already under earth gravity trains have problems to get enough traction. Maybe a lot more difficult on Mars with its low gravity. But I lack knowledge to have an informed opinion on that.

But you are right it will be an important issue quite early. Not so much for the first settlement, batteries will do for construction. But as soon as mining starts for minerals that are not found very near to the settlement, something else will be needed.


Offline A_M_Swallow

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #2 on: 08/20/2013 10:55 PM »
Other technologies:

Hyperloop.  I suspect that tubes on pylons was originally designed for Mars and modified for California.

Cable car.  These can move quickly because they do not have to worry about dust.  Solar electric power next to the engines at base stations with batteries for night movements.

Online Dalhousie

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #3 on: 08/21/2013 02:04 AM »
Just a comment on roads.  To make a dirt road that can sustain several movements a day you only need a bulldozer and grader.  They can be constrcuted at the rate of several kn a day. Many outback roads in Australia of of this type, and can support three trailer road trains, unless the going is very soft. 

Areas of soft going, or higher traffic (several movements per hour), will need roadbase as well.
"There is nobody who is a bigger fan of sending robots to Mars than me... But I believe firmly that the best, the most comprehensive, the most successful exploration will be done by humans" Steve Squyres

Offline RocketmanUS

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #4 on: 08/21/2013 03:40 AM »
For the Rover, could use mobile power stations.
Batteries on trailers.

Benefits:
1 ) Trailers with own motors gives back up to motors on crewed rovers.
2 ) Quick exchange of batteries by just exchanging trailers.
3 ) Mobile power station could also be used as back up or added power
     source for bases, colonies.
4 ) Batteries on trailers already charged when crewed Rover arrives.

Mobile power stations.
Delivered on flat bed rovers.
Solar panels roll out or unfold at a site.
Picked back up when needed to move.
All done automated, no crew needed.


Rail system. ( Need larger population to justify )
Could be covered by dust storms.

Could use overhead power lines used for electric buses like used in the city.

Power lines could also be used to share power between to bases, colonies.

Could be easily covered and connection to truck/rover to power lines from under the cover.

Flight might be possible.
Low level flight by electric airplane. One person and or low weight cargo.
Hydrogen filled blimp ( no O2 in the atmosphere to start fire with H2 ), electric powered motor.

Good for:
1 ) Emergency transport
2 ) Over ruff terrain, over canyons

Offline gbaikie

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #5 on: 08/21/2013 05:23 AM »
Quote
A lot of people have put a ton of thought into getting to Mars, terraforming it, expanding living space and landing on NSF.  However, I found there doesn't seem to be a lot of thought given to how best to move around once we get there.  Let's face it, transportation and the logistics of it are going to be hugely important on Mars.  For any martian colony to succeed, it's vital that it gets this right.  So just what are the best ways for getting around and moving large amounts of material on the Red Planet? 
For exploration, I think hopping.

For large amounts of material. I don't why you need to move a lot material around on the surface. And what material is might dictate how it's moved.
It seems like in near term, and if the stuff isn't coming from Earth, you use to material close to where ever you making it. So wheeled or rail or suspended cable [one can lift more mass- things are lighter on Mars].
« Last Edit: 08/21/2013 05:24 AM by gbaikie »

Offline Hyperion5

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #6 on: 08/21/2013 05:26 AM »
Other technologies:

Hyperloop.  I suspect that tubes on pylons was originally designed for Mars and modified for California.

Cable car.  These can move quickly because they do not have to worry about dust.  Solar electric power next to the engines at base stations with batteries for night movements.

I don't know about Hyperloop for Mars.  Last I checked, you really can't use it for heavy freight, which I think is an absolute must for Mars.  For hauling people AND heavy payloads, I think there are two options that would work far better than Hyperloop. 

1) Conventional Railroads (electric or methalox-electric locomotives)

-Let's face it, conventional railroads are proven, they're cheap, and there's a ton of expertise in their operations here on Earth, and you could definitely go faster in Mars' thin atmosphere.  In additional, all of that martian dust and sand has to be useful for something, and it turns out that many railroads actually blast sand upon the tracks to improve locomotives' traction.  To further aid traction, you simply up the weight and scale of normal railroads for Mars.  Given the trains only need to overcome .38g climbing or braking, they should have fewer problems moving huge payloads up slopes or stopping them on slopes compared to Earth.  The only real question is whether .38g is enough to allow conventional railroads.  If anyone with a serious physics background has an idea, please let us know! 

2) Magnetic Levitation Trains

-Magnetic levitation trains are the fastest trains in the world, which is enabled by their hovering over their tracks thanks to magnetic repulsion.  They are propelled by magnetic attraction and braked by repulsion and air brakes.  This allows incredible speeds at little cost in energy, low maintenance costs, with cruising speeds in atmosphere of 500 km/h, very high top speeds (581 km/h is the current record-see Chuo Shinkansen), and are probably Hyperloop's natural foe.  There are two main systems, the relatively simple German Transrapid (also found in Shanghai), and the superconducting Japanese maglev currently being expanded for ultra-high speed service between Tokyo & Osaka.  Maglevs should have no problems in martian gravity given they're kept on the "tracks" by magnetic fields, not by gravity, and can ascend gradients as steep as 10%.  Other advantages include no tube or vacuum pumps, existing and proven systems in operation today (not so for Hyperloop), and the ability to move huge quantities of materials and people compared to Hyperloop.  Their one major disadvantage is they're more expensive per km of track to build than any other form of rail. 

While I get Hyperloop can go incredibly fast, I don't see a need for it given a martian colony's need to transport heavy payloads.  If martian gravity is adequate for conventional rail, I'd probably take that first due to costs and time of construction.  If however, .38g gravity is inadequate for rail, I'd start planning a Transrapid maglev in a heartbeat.  It can do freight and passenger service at low operating costs, and given Mars' low air density, a cruising speed of 1000 km/h is probably very achievable.  If that isn't fast enough for Mars I don't know what is!  :) 

« Last Edit: 08/21/2013 05:30 AM by Hyperion5 »

Offline MP99

Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #7 on: 08/21/2013 05:48 AM »
I dont like the idea of wasting water just to burn it (as methalox) in I/C engines.

Carbon dioxide can be broken down to carbon monoxide and oxygen, and will burn - though not as good as methalox. Feedstock is easy to gather straight from the atmosphere, of course.

I'd prefer to see this used for powering the rolligons.

Cheers, Martin

Offline Hyperion5

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #8 on: 08/21/2013 05:57 AM »
I dont like the idea of wasting water just to burn it (as methalox) in I/C engines.

Carbon dioxide can be broken down to carbon monoxide and oxygen, and will burn - though not as good as methalox. Feedstock is easy to gather straight from the atmosphere, of course.

I'd prefer to see this used for powering the rolligons.

Cheers, Martin

Well you're free to disagree with Steven on the matter, Martin.  I was under the impression that he was counting on a prodigious energy source, like nuclear power, to allow large-scale ISRU.  I also was under the impression that Mars the water wouldn't be escaping Mars' atmosphere any more than it does today.  There are Cirrus clouds over Mars for a reason, after all!  I will agree that Carbon Monoxide-Oxygen engine would be an easier thing to resupply though. 

Offline guckyfan

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #9 on: 08/21/2013 08:09 AM »
Just about trains on rails.

I am quite sure getting traction is more difficult than some imagine. More mass won't help. It increases traction but it also increases inertia so does not help with accelerating and braking so it just increases energy needs without helping. Maybe magnets for increase of traction or monorails would be the answer. Otherwise very straight tracks and very flat slopes, no steep rises or descends.


Offline MickQ

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #10 on: 08/21/2013 11:16 AM »
To me, the most versatile and easiest to use system for the early years would be CO / O2 engine driven, wheeled vehicles.  I see three types :

1.  A small 2-4 person transport.  Short range and limited cargo capability.

2.  A larger, slightly heavier, 2 person unit with dedicated cargo space &

3.  Much larger, purpose built, long range chassis able to be retasked to varying roles.

Effectively a sedan, a pick-up and a truck.

The first two would refuel from dedicated filling stations while one version of the third could be the filling station.  A fuel tanker that is driven to the nuke powered ISRU fuel depot, loads up and then moves to where it is needed.  One of these could even be a mobile ISRU plant itself as part of long range expedition convoys accompanying hab/lab and cargo versions.

Further down the track, as more serious infrastructure is established, this could be changed to CH4/O2 for better performance.

Air travel, while maybe more versatile, adds risk and complexity if using
"Heavier than Air" machines ( hoppers, planes or my favourite personal rocket pack.). It also depends on how the settlement is planned to grow over time.  One main landing site with over the ground expansion from there would not need it as much as a multiple landing scenario in widely distanced areas

Much as I like the idea of long distance rail travel of some sort, I think it way too far in the future to even consider at this stage.  It'll be boots and wheels in the dust for a long time.

A question.  Could short range vehicles run on gas or would the fuel need to be liquified ??

Mick.

Offline guckyfan

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #11 on: 08/21/2013 12:20 PM »
To me, the most versatile and easiest to use system for the early years would be CO / O2 engine driven, wheeled vehicles.  I see three types :

1.  A small 2-4 person transport.  Short range and limited cargo capability.

2.  A larger, slightly heavier, 2 person unit with dedicated cargo space &

3.  Much larger, purpose built, long range chassis able to be retasked to varying roles.

Effectively a sedan, a pick-up and a truck.

I agree.

About the roads. From the Mars pictures the rovers sent back I get the impression, that the Mars surface is mostly rock with a very thin dust cover. If that is true then it needs just staking out tracks and clearing the tracks from those smaller rocks and larger pebbles. Unless the wind blows much dust into the track they should last almost forever, much better than dirtroads on earth.

That's assuming it is mostly cargo transported with robot vehicles at limited speed, that would be in line with limited power available.

To justify more expensive infrastructure like smooth roads or rails the population would have to be in the millions. No way of saying what kind of infrastructure will be appropriate then.




Offline JohnFornaro

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #12 on: 08/21/2013 01:19 PM »
To the OP:  Walking.

From the wild and crazy ideas department:  Dogs and horses.

Benefits:

Training is easier and more versatile than programming a robot.

Walking and following simple  instructions is virtually automatic after training.  Long established pack animal utility, which can be used for surveying, sample collection, riding, and many other tasks.

Two sizes of cargo carrying.  Twenty to hundred mile range.

Downsides:

Launching and zero gee effects completely unknown, and not yet designed

Those EVA suits have not yet been developed.

Depends on ISRU being already established.

Even with Luna first, these are huge pragmatic objections.

Unnecessary objections:

Thinking inside the box while maintaining a facade of thinking outside the box.
« Last Edit: 08/21/2013 01:20 PM by JohnFornaro »
Sometimes I just flat out don't get it.

Offline spectre9

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #13 on: 08/21/2013 02:04 PM »
For the main routes I would go for a mix between a car and a tram.

Overhead lines to supply power without the rails.

Smaller vehicles can be used independently for short journeys. Unpressurized rovers should be quite fast especially of the 2 wheel variety.

Can only imagine Martian dirt bike jumping. Quadruple backflip!!  :o

Offline Hyperion5

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #14 on: 08/21/2013 07:51 PM »

To justify more expensive infrastructure like smooth roads or rails the population would have to be in the millions. No way of saying what kind of infrastructure will be appropriate then.

Actually you don't need anywhere near that level of population to justify rail infrastructure.  I remember being in Freiburg, Germany, where they had an extensive tram system serving a metro area of around 300,000 people.  For moving people around, I think you're overestimating the numbers required to make it work.  Also, you don't even necessarily need that large of a population base.  If, for instance, you're mining a particularly large iron deposit more than a few kilometers from your base, you're going to eventually need more than heavy trucks.  Trucks are much less efficient at shipping massive, heavy payloads over distances than rail.  As soon as your colony has any sort of heavy industry, rail starts looking attractive, especially once new settlements begin getting built. 

Offline guckyfan

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #15 on: 08/21/2013 08:13 PM »

To justify more expensive infrastructure like smooth roads or rails the population would have to be in the millions. No way of saying what kind of infrastructure will be appropriate then.

Actually you don't need anywhere near that level of population to justify rail infrastructure.  I remember being in Freiburg, Germany, where they had an extensive tram system serving a metro area of around 300,000 people.  For moving people around, I think you're overestimating the numbers required to make it work.  Also, you don't even necessarily need that large of a population base. 

If you have more than one metro area with 300.000 people  you are already in the Millions range. Also yes, internally some kind of transport, maybe trains will be necessaray.

If, for instance, you're mining a particularly large iron deposit more than a few kilometers from your base, you're going to eventually need more than heavy trucks.  Trucks are much less efficient at shipping massive, heavy payloads over distances than rail.  As soon as your colony has any sort of heavy industry, rail starts looking attractive, especially once new settlements begin getting built. 

If you need iron for a small number of people you need less than for a population counted in millions. Big trucks will be good enough and much cheaper to run than trains with their infrastructure needs and small loads. Especially with that traction problem that will require very flat tracks. Trucks have better traction with their tyres.

Also there will be mining places on different locations possibly in big distances. Finding all necessary minerals closeby is an ideal situation, I don't think they will be that lucky.

Of course we are only speculating. YMMV

Offline M129K

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #16 on: 08/21/2013 09:23 PM »
I believe the European Space Agency did some research into Carbon Monoxide fuel cells to power a rover. Considering that this can be made on Mars without any hydrogen or other components that have to be taken from earth, I'd say it would be a very good fuel for use in rovers on a Mars base.

Offline A_M_Swallow

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #17 on: 08/21/2013 09:53 PM »
The train track are Mars do not have to be compatible with wheels used on the Earth.  The rail could be given some sort of cover to prevent the vehicle leaving the ground.  The rails and wheels could have cog teeth built into them.

Offline RocketmanUS

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #18 on: 08/22/2013 01:26 AM »

To justify more expensive infrastructure like smooth roads or rails the population would have to be in the millions. No way of saying what kind of infrastructure will be appropriate then.

Actually you don't need anywhere near that level of population to justify rail infrastructure.  I remember being in Freiburg, Germany, where they had an extensive tram system serving a metro area of around 300,000 people.  For moving people around, I think you're overestimating the numbers required to make it work.  Also, you don't even necessarily need that large of a population base.  If, for instance, you're mining a particularly large iron deposit more than a few kilometers from your base, you're going to eventually need more than heavy trucks.  Trucks are much less efficient at shipping massive, heavy payloads over distances than rail.  As soon as your colony has any sort of heavy industry, rail starts looking attractive, especially once new settlements begin getting built. 
Needed infrastructure to build the rail system.
Need high enough population to justify such a system.
There would be a limited amount of man power on Mars. So what they invest their time in making will have to be justified, one over the other.


Other option from one of our other posters for Lunar is a hopper.
This could also be used on Mars.
Does not need to reach orbital altitude or velocity.
Might be able to use wings or lifting body even with low atmosphere pressure to increase distance.
Would be vertical take off and landing. Good for ruff terrain.
Good for going over canyons.

Offline colbourne

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Re: The best ways to get around Mars
« Reply #19 on: 08/22/2013 01:57 AM »
For the first 20 years of Mars colonisation , I see the population being very small and centralised with probably less than 200 people.
This will require little more than buggies and possible the Mars version of camper vans for longer trips. As energy is likely to be in short supply at first small electric bikes will be useful and can be charged from the habitats solar or nuclear power supplies.
It may be necessary to transport large quantities of water ice from the polar ice caps long distances if the base is positioned near the equator (I would probably site it near a known source of water for convenience though). Maybe solar powered autonomous trucks could do this as speed is not essential.

Once the colony has grown to several thousand people we can start building more major transport systems. I expect electric railways will be used although initially something more like a trolleybus could be used removing the need for tracks. Cog drives can be used for steep slopes and accelerating to improve traction.

Personal transport will be electric 4WD's which are pressurised. Roads outside the base will remain as dirt tracks for a long time as the effort to build better roads will not be seen as a great priority. These personal transports should be able to get power from the railways/trolley bus routes when convenient but will have batteries for independence.
« Last Edit: 08/22/2013 01:59 AM by colbourne »

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