India Tests Solar-Powered Trains

Solar energy is being utilized in all sorts of innovative ways, but Indian Railways seems to be the first train service to try installing solar panels on their coach cars. To be clear, the trains themselves will still be pulled by the traditional diesel engines, but the railroad hopes that installing the solar panels will cut costs and help make their trains more energy efficient.

The first solar-powered coaches are already in use, with sixteen solar panels installed on the roof of each car. The power generated by the panels runs the coaches’ lights, fans and display monitors and six solar-powered coaches can save the railroad about 21,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year.

Indian Railways did have to overcome some challenges to get the coaches into operation. Space had to be carved out of the passenger area in order to hold the batteries which store the power in event of darkness or bad weather. The panels themselves are also expensive, although the railroad expects the installation costs to be recovered in a bit over 18 months.

The real question is the reliability of the solar panels. Unlike panels that are installed on a traditional house or office space, these panels will be subjected to vibrations, weather and road hazards. It’s not clear how the panels will hold up to the stress, which is why Indian Railways is describing this idea as a “test” until they have some time to judge the durability of the installed panels.

Still, it’s an idea with a lot of potential and the minister of the railroad recently described solar-powered coaches as a “path-breaking leap” towards making its cars more green.

Are Robots Soon To Acquire An Ethical Infusion?

Robots are going to play a big part in people’s lives. The image of robots, as presented in classic science-fiction films, may be a massive fantasy dramatization but the integration of task-performing robots into people’s lives won’t be a pure fantasy for much longer. Researchers and developers realize robots can be utilized as mechanical helpers capable of making life easier. Robots may be programmed to perform certain tasks, but developers and designers cannot guarantee robots can perform their duties perfectly and without error.

Researchers want to install “ethical black boxes” in robots. This way, the robots can report facts associated with their decision making when an accident occurs. Doing so comes with more than a mere explanation about what went wrong. The information can assist with reprogramming a robot to prevent mistakes from happening again. Error reports could be uploaded to the manufacturer. The information might be used to improve future models of robots.

Robots cannot think for themselves nor can they make moral decisions. Robots are machines. They can only do what they are programmed to do. Their abilities are limited to their physical capabilities and programming-based artificial intelligence.

This does not mean, however, steps must be done to reduce the potential failures robots may cause. Again, robots cannot act in a perfect way. The main trait they may share with humans is imperfection. Reducing imperfections in robots also could reduce their potential to cause harm due to malfunctions and other issues.

Instilling actual moral ethics may be impossible. Improving performance likely is not.