Virtualization offers a lot of benefits, but it also comes with a cost (memory, CPU, network, IO, licensing). If you are in or running a cloud then some form of virtualization may not even be an option. But if you are running your own string of servers you can choose to go without. Free will and all that. Should you or shouldn't you?
In a detailed comparison the folks at 37signals found that running their Rails application servers without virtualization resulted in A 66% reduction in the response time while handling multiples of the traffic is beyond what I expected.
As is common 37signals runs their big database servers without virtualization. They use a scale-up approach at the database tier so extracting every bit of performance out of those servers is key. Application servers typically use a scale-out approach for scalability, which is virtualization friendly, but that says nothing about performance.
Finding performance increases, especially when you are running on a dynamic language is a challenge. The improvements found by 37signals were significant. Something to consider when you are casting around wondering how you can get more bang for your buck.
Update 7: Basecamp, now with more vroom. Basecamp application servers running Ruby code were upgraded and virtualization was removed. The result: A 66 % reduction in the response time while handling multiples of the traffic is beyond what I expected. They still use virtualization (Linux KVM), just less of it now.
Update 6: Things We’ve Learned at 37Signals. Themes: less is more; don't worry be happy.
Update 5: Nuts & Bolts: HAproxy . Nice explanation (post, screencast) by Mark Imbriaco of why HAProxy (load balancing proxy server) is their favorite (fast, efficient, graceful configuration, queues requests when Mongrels are busy) for spreading dynamic content between Apache web servers and Mongrel application servers.
Update 4: O'Rielly's Tim O'Brien interviews David Hansson, Rails creator and 37signals partner. Says BaseCamp scales horizontally on the application and web tier. Scales up for the database, using one "big ass" 128GB machine. Says: As technology moves on, hardware gets cheaper and cheaper. In my mind, you don't want to shard unless you positively have to, sort of a last resort approach.
Update 3: The need for speed: Making Basecamp faster. Pages now load twice as fast, cut CPU usage by a third and database time by about half. Results achieved by: Analysis, Caching, MySQL optimizations, Hardware upgrades.
Update 2: customer support is handled in real-time using Campfire.
Update: highly useful information on creating a customer billing system.
In the giving spirit of Christmas the folks at 37signals have shared a bit about how their system works. 37signals is most famous for loosing Ruby on Rails into the world and they've use RoR to make their very popular Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire products. RoR takes a lot of heat for being a performance dog, but 37signals seems to handle a lot of traffic with relatively normal sounding resources. This is just an initial data dump, they promise to add more details later. As they add more I'll update it here.
* 2,000,000 people with accounts
* 1,340,000 projects
* 13,200,000 to-do items
* 9,200,000 messages
* 12,200,000 comments
* 5,500,000 time tracking entries
* 4,000,000 milestones
* Just under 1,000,000 pages
* 6,800,000 to-do items
* 1,500,000 notes
* 829,000 photos
* 370,000 files
* 5.9 terabytes of customer-uploaded files
* 888 GB files uploaded (900,000 requests)
* 2 TB files downloaded (8,500,000 requests)
Credit Card Processing Process
- Apache is able to deliver roughly 700% more requests per second with Squid when serving 1KB and 100KB images.
- Server load is reduced using Squid because the server does not have to create a bunch of Apache processes to handle the requests.
- APC Cache took a system that could barely handle 10-20 requests per second to handling 50-60 requests per second. A 400% increase.
- APC allowed the load times to remain under 5 seconds even with 200 concurrent threads slamming on the server.
- These two caches are easy to setup and install and allow you to get a lot more performance out of them.
Update 7: How do you know when you need more memcache servers?. Dathan Pattishall talks about using memcache not to scale, but to reduce latency and reduce I/O spikes, and how to use stats to know when more servers are needed.
Update 6: Stock Traders Find Speed Pays, in Milliseconds. Goldman Sachs is making record profits off a 500 millisecond trading advantage. Yes, latency matters. As an interesting aside, Libet found 500 msecs is about the time it takes the brain to weave together an experience of consciousness from all our sensor inputs.
Update 5: Shopzilla's Site Redo - You Get What You Measure. At the Velocity conference Phil Dixon, from Shopzilla, presented data showing a 5 second speed up resulted in a 25% increase in page views, a 10% increase in revenue, a 50% reduction in hardware, and a 120% increase traffic from Google. Built a new service oriented Java based stack. Keep it simple. Quality is a design decision. Obsessively easure everything. Used agile and built the site one page at a time to get feedback. Use proxies to incrementally expose users to new pages for A/B testing. Oracle Coherence Grid for caching. 1.5 second page load SLA. 650ms server side SLA. Make 30 parallel calls on server. 100 million requests a day. SLAs measure 95th percentile, averages not useful. Little things make a big difference.
Update 4: Slow Pages Lose Users. At the Velocity Conference Jake Brutlag (Google Search) and Eric Schurman (Microsoft Bing) presented study data showing delays under half a second impact business metrics and delay costs increase over time and persist. Page weight not key. Progressive rendering helps a lot.
Update 3: Nati Shalom's Take on this article. Lots of good stuff on designing architectures for latency minimization.
Update 2: Why Latency Lags Bandwidth, and What it Means to Computing by David Patterson. Reasons: Moore's Law helps BW more than latency; Distance limits latency; Bandwidth easier to sell; Latency help BW, but not vice versa; Bandwidth hurts latency; OS overhead hurts latency more than BW. Three ways to cope: Caching, Replication, Prediction. We haven't talked about prediction. Games use prediction, i.e, project where a character will go, but it's not a strategy much used in websites.
Update: Efficient data transfer through zero copy. Copying data kills. This excellent article explains the path data takes through the OS and how to reduce the number of copies to the big zero.
Latency matters. Amazon found every 100ms of latency cost them 1% in sales. Google found an extra .5 seconds in search page generation time dropped traffic by 20%. A broker could lose $4 million in revenues per millisecond if their electronic trading platform is 5 milliseconds behind the competition.
The Amazon results were reported by Greg Linden in his presentation Make Data Useful. In one of Greg's slides Google VP Marissa Mayer, in reference to the Google results, is quoted as saying "Users really respond to speed." And everyone wants responsive users. Ka-ching! People hate waiting and they're repulsed by seemingly small delays.
The less interactive a site becomes the more likely users are to click away and do something else. Latency is the mother of interactivity. Though it's possible through various UI techniques to make pages subjectively feel faster, slow sites generally lead to higher customer defection rates, which lead to lower conversation rates, which results in lower sales. Yet for some reason latency isn't a topic talked a lot about for web apps. We talk a lot about about building high-capacity sites, but very little about how to build low-latency sites. We apparently do so at the expense of our immortal bottom line.
I wondered if latency went to zero if sales would be infinite? But alas, as Dan Pritchett says, Latency Exists, Cope!. So we can't hide the "latency problem" by appointing a Latency Czar to conduct a nice little war on latency. Instead, we need to learn how to minimize and manage latency. It turns out a lot of problems are better solved that way.
How do we recover that which is most meaningful--sales--and build low-latency systems?
I'm excited that the topic of latency came up. There are a few good presentations on this topic I've been dying for a chance to reference. And latency is one of those quantifiable qualities that takes real engineering to create. A lot of what we do is bolt together other people's toys. Building high-capacity low-latency system takes mad skills. Which is fun. And which may also account for why we see latency a core design skill in real-time and market trading type systems, but not web systems. We certainly want our nuclear power plant plutonium fuel rod lowering hardware to respond to interrupts with sufficient alacrity. While less serious, trading companies are always in a technological arms race to create lower latency systems. He with the fastest system creates a sort of private wire for receiving and acting on information faster than everyone else. Knowing who has the bestest price the firstest is a huge advantage. But if our little shopping cart takes an extra 500 milliseconds to display, the world won't end. Or will it?
My unsophisticated definition of latency is that it is the elapsed time between A and B where A and B are something you care about. Low-latency and high-latency are relative terms. The latency requirements for a femptosecond laser are far different than for mail delivery via the pony express, yet both systems can be characterized by latency. A system has low-latency if it's low enough to meet requirements, otherwise it's a high-latency system.
The best explanation of latency I've ever read is still It's the Latency, Stupid by admitted network wizard Stuart Cheshire. A wonderful and detailed rant explaining latency as it relates to network communication, but the ideas are applicable everywhere.
Stuart's major point: If you have a network link with low bandwidth then it's an easy matter of putting several in parallel to make a combined link with higher bandwidth, but if you have a network link with bad latency then no amount of money can turn any number of them into a link with good latency.
I like the parallel with sharding in this observation. We put shards in parallel to increase capacity, but request latency through the system remains the same. So if we want to increase interactivity we have to address every component in the system that introduces latency and minimize or remove it's contribution. There's no "easy" scale-out strategy for fixing latency problems.
Sources of Latency
My parents told me latency was brought by Santa Clause in the dead of night, but that turns out not to be true! So where does latency come from?
Draw out the list of every hop a client request takes and the potential number of latency gremlins is quite impressive.
The Downsides of LatencyLower sales may be the terminal condition of latency problems, but the differential diagnosis is made of many and varied ailments. As latency increases work stays queued at all levels of the system which puts stress everywhere. It's like dementia, the system forgets how to do anything. Some of the problems you may see are: Queues grow; Memory grows; Timeouts cascade; Memory grows; Paging increases; Retries cascade; State machines reset; Locks are held longer; Threads block; Deadlock occurs; Predictability declines; Throughput declines; Messages drop; Quality plummets.
For a better list take a look at The Many Flavors of System Latency.. along the Critical Path of Peak Performance by Todd Jobson. A great analysis of the subject.
Managing LatencyThe general algorithm for managing latency is:
Hardly a revelation, but it's actually rare for applications to view their work flow in terms of latency. This is part of the Log Everything All the Time mantra. Time stamp every part of your system. Look at mean latency, standard deviation, and outliers. See if you can't make the mean a little nicer, pinch in that standard deviation, and chop off some of those spikes. With latency variability is the name of the game, but that doesn't mean that variability can't be better controlled and managed. Target your latency slimming efforts where it matters the most and you get the most bang for your buck.
Next we will talk about various ideas for what you can do about latency once you've found it.
Dan Pritchett's Lessons for Managing LatencyDan Pritchett is one of the few who has openly written on architecting for latency. Here are some of Dan's suggestions for structuring systems to manage latency:
Clearly each of these principles is a major topic all on their own. For more details please read: Dan Pritchett has written a few excellent papers on managing latency: The Challenges of Latency, Architecting for Latency, Latency Exists, Cope!.
GigaSpaces Lessons for Lowering LatencyGigsSpaces is an in-memory grid vendor and as such is on the vanguard of the RAM is the New Disk style of application building. In this approach disk is pushed aside for keeping all data in RAM. Following this line of logic GigaSpaces came up with these low latency architecture principles:
The thinking is the primary source of latency in a system centers around accessing disk. So skip the disk and keep everything in memory. Very logical. As memory is an order of magnitude faster than disk it's hard to argue that latency in such a system wouldn't plummet.
Latency is minimized because objects are in kept memory and work requests are directed directly to the machine containing the already in-memory object. The object implements the request behavior on the same machine. There's no pulling data from a disk. There isn't even the hit of accessing a cache server. And since all other object requests are also served from in-memory objects we've minimized the Service Dependency Latency problem as well.
GigaSpaces isn't the only player in this market. You might want to also take a look at: Scaleout Software, Grid Gain, Teracotta, GemStone, and Coherence. We'll have more on some of these products later.
Miscellaneous Latency Reduction Ideas
Why don't most users experience high data rates? pinpoints poor network design as one major source of latency: On a single high performance network today, measured latencies are typically ~1.5x - 3x that expected from the speed of light in fiber. This is mostly due to taking longer than line-of-site paths. Between different networks (via NAPs) latency is usually much worse. Some extra distance is required, based on the availability of fiber routes and interconnects, but much more attention should be given to minimizing latency as we design our network topologies and routing.
Application Server Architecture Matters AgainWith the general move over the past few years to a standard shared nothing two-tierish architecture, discussion of application server architectures has become a neglected topic, mainly because there weren't application servers anymore. Web requests came in, data was retrieved from the database, and results were calculated and returned to the user. No application server. The web server became the application server. This was quite a change from previous architectures which were more application server oriented. Though they weren't called application servers, they were call daemons or even just servers (as in client-server).
Let's say we buy into RAM is the New Disk. This means we'll have many persistent processes filled with many objects spread over many boxes. A stream of requests are directed at each process and those requests must be executed in each process. How should those processes be designed?
Sure, having objects in memory reduces latency, but it's very easy through poor programming practice to lose all of that advantage. And then some. Fortunately we have a ton of literature on how to structure servers. I have a more thorough discussion here in Architecture Discussion. Also take a look at SEDA, an architecture for highly concurrent servers and ACE, an OO network programming toolkit in C++.
A few general suggestions:
ColocateLocating applications together reduces latency by reducing data hops. The number and location of network hops a message has to travel through is a big part of the end-to-end latency of a system.
For example, from New York to the London Stock Exchange a round trip message takes 84 milliseconds to send, from Frankfurt it take 18 milliseconds, and from Tokyo it takes 208 milliseconds. If you want to minimize latency then the clear strategy is to colocate your service in the London Stock Exchange. Distance is minimized and you can probably use a faster network too.
Virtualization technology makes it easier than ever to compose separate systems together. Add a cloud infrastructure to that and it becomes almost easy to dramatically lower latencies by colocating applications.
Minimize the Number of HopsLatency increases with each hop in a system. The fewer hops the less latency. So put those hops on a diet. Some hop reducing ideas are:
Build Your own Field-programmable Gate Array (FPGA)This one may seem a little off the wall, but creating your own custom FPGA may be a killer option for some problems. A FPGA is a semiconductor device containing programmable logic. Typical computer programs are a series of instructions that are loaded and interpreted by a general purpose microprocessor, like the one in your desk top computer. Using a FPGA it's possible to bypass the overhead of a general purpose microprocessor and code your application directly into silicon. For some classes of problems the performance increases can be dramatic.
FPGAs are programmed with your task specific algorithm. Usually something compute intensive like medical imaging, modeling bond yields, cryptography, and matching patterns for deep packet inspections. I/O heavy operations probably won't benefit from FPGAs. Sure, the same algorithm could be run on a standard platform, but the advantage FPGAs have is even though they may run at a relatively low clock rates, FPGAs can perform many calculations in parallel. So perhaps orders-of-magnitude more work is being performed each clock cycle. Also, FPGAs often use content addressable memory which provides a significant speedup for indexing, searching, and matching operations. We also may see a move to FPGAs because they use less power. Stay lean and green.
In embedded projects FPGAs and ASICS (application-specific integrated circuit) are avoided like the plague. If you can get by with an off-the-shelf microprocessors (Intel, AMD, ARM, PPC, etc) you do it. It's a time-to-market issue. Standard microprocessors are, well, standard, so that makes them easy to work with. Operating systems will already have board support packages for standard processors, which makes building a system faster and cheaper. Once custom hardware is involved it becomes a lot of work to support the new chip in hardware and software. Creating a software only solution is much more flexible in a world where constant change rules. Hardware resists change. So does software, but since people think it doesn't we have to act like software is infinitely malleable.
Sometimes hardware is the way to go. If you are building a NIC that has to process packets at line speed the chances are an off-the-shelf processor won't be cost effective and may not be fast enough. Your typical high end graphics card, for example, is a marvel of engineering. Graphics cards are so powerful these days distributed computation projects like Folding@home get a substantial amount of their processing power from graphics cards. Traditional CPUs are creamed by NVIDIA GeForce GPUs which perform protein-folding simulations up to 140 times faster. The downside is GPUs require very specialized programming, so it's easier to write for a standard CPU and be done with it.
That same protein folding power can be available to your own applications. ACTIV Financial, for example, uses a custom FGPA for low latency processing of high speed financial data flows. ACTIV's competitors use a traditional commodity box approach where financial data is processed by a large number of commodity servers. Let's say an application takes 12 servers. Using a FPGA the number of servers can be collapsed down to one because more instructions are performed simultaneously which means fewer machines ar needed. Using the FPGA architecture they process 20 times more messages than they did before and have reduced latency from one millisecond down to less than 100 microseconds.
Part of the performance improvement comes from the high speed main memory and network IO access FPGAs enjoy with the processor. Both Intel and AMD make it relatively easy to connect FPGAs to their chips. Using these mechanisms data moves back and forth between your processing engine and the main processor with minimal latency. In a standard architecture all this communication and manipulation would happen over a network.
FPGAs are programmed using hardware description languages like Verilog and VHDL. You can't get away from the hardware when programming FPGAs, which is a major bridge to cross for us software types. Many moons ago I took a Verilog FPGA programming class. It's not easy, nothing is ever easy, but it is possible. And for the right problem it might even be worth it.
There have been reports that software engineering is dead. Maybe, like the future, software engineering is simply not evenly distributed? When you read this paper I think you'll agree there is some real engineering going on, it's just that most of the things we need to build do not require real engineering. Much like my old childhood tree fort could be patched together and was "good enough." This brings to mind the old joke: If a software tree falls in the woods would anyone hear it fall? Only if it tweeted on the way down...
What this paper really showed me is we need not only to change programming practices and constructs, but we also need to design solutions that allow for deep parallelism to begin with. Grafting parallelism on later is difficult. Parallel execution requires knowing precisely how components are dependent on each other and that level of precision tends to go far beyond the human attention span.
In particular this paper deals with how to parallelize the browser on cell phones. We are entering a multi-core smartphone dominated world. As network connections become faster, applications, like the browser, become CPU bound:
What's clear though is their job would have been a heck of a lot easier if the stack would have been designed with parallelization in mind from the beginning.
Leo Meyerovich, one of the authors of the paper, talks about the need for a more rigorous underpinning in blog postThe Point of Semantics:
As part of the preparation for a paper submission, I'm finishing up my formalization of a subset of CSS 2.1 (blocks, inlines, inline-blocks, and floats) from last year. My first two, direct formalization approaches failed the smell test so Ras and I created a more orthogonal kernel language. It's small, and as the CSS spec is a scattered hodge-podge of prose and visual examples riddled with ambiguities, we phrase it as a total and deterministic attribute grammar that is easy to evaluate in parallel.
I asked Leo what rules we could follow to create more parallelizable constructs from the beginning and he said that's what he'll be working on for the next couple years :-) Some advice he had was:
Some things Leo will be working on are:
I've been enjoying higher-order data flow models (Flapjax) and task parallelism (Cilk++) for awhile now and have been thinking about this, including support for controlled sharing (e.g., SharC for type qualifiers and I'm still trying to figure out implicitly transactional flows for FRP). For a browser, I think it will remain as specialized libraries written in privileged languages where good engineers can rock and put together and be exposed in higher-level languages. Hopefully gradually typing will extend into lower levels to support this. The above hints at a layered framework with the bulk in the high-level -- think parallel scripting. However, as a community, we don't know how to include performance guides in large software, so parallelism is a challenge. I prototyped one of my algorithms in a parallel python variant: the sequential C was magnitudes faster than then 20-core python. Of course, the parallel C++ was even faster :)
Browsing Web 3.0 on 3 Watts
In Scalability issues for dummies Alex Barrera talks movingly about the challenges he faces trying to scale his startup inkzee as the lone developer. Inkzee is an online news reader that automatically groups similar topics. This is a cool problem and is one you know right away is going to have some killer scalability problems as the number of feeds and the number of users increase. And these problems lead to the point of the post, to explain here what are scalability problems and how deep the repercussions are for a small company, which Alex does admirably.
I found Alex's commentary quite touching and familiar. As I imagine many of you do too. It's the modern equivalent of an explorer following a dream. Going alone into uncharted territory where the Dragons live and trying to survive when everything seems against you. For every great returning hero there are 10 who do not make it back. And that's hard to deal with.
Everyone will certainly have their ideas on how to "fix" the problem, as that's what engineers do. But it also doesn't hurt to use our Venus brain for a moment and simply recognize the toll this process can take. It can be dispiriting. The continual stream of problems and lack of positive feedback can wear you down after a while. To stick with it takes a bit of craziness in the heart.
Switching back to being Mars brained I might suggest:
This article not about Mariah Carey, or its song. It's about Storing System, Database.
First let's describe what means by odds: In my social network, I found 93% of the mainstream developers sanctify the database, or at least consider it in any data persistence challenge as the ultimate, superhero, and undefeatable solution.
I think this problem come from the education, personally, and some companies also I think it's involved in this.
To start to fix this bad thinking, we all should agree in the following points:
- Every challenge have its own solutions, so whatever you want to save/persistent, there are always many solutions. For example the Web search engines, such as: Google, Kngine, Yahoo, Bing don't use database at all instead we use Indexes (Index file) for better performance.
- The Database in general whatever the vendor it's slow compared with other solutions such as: Key-Value storing system, Index file, DHT.
- The Database currently employ Relation Data model, or Object relational data model, so don't convince yourself to save non-relation data into relation data model store system such as: Database.
- The Database system architecture didn't changed very much in last 30 years, and it's content a lot of limits, and fails in its performance, scalability character. If you don't believe me check out this papers:
I hope if you agreed with me in the previous points. So the question do we really need Database in every application?
There are many scenario shouldn't use Database resisters, such as: Web search engine, Caching, File sharing system, DNS system, etc. In the other hand there many of scenarios should use Database, such as: Customer database, Address book, ERP, etc.
Tiny URL services for example, shouldn't use Database at all because it's require very simple needs, just map a small/tiny URL to the real/big URL. If you start agreed with me, you likely want ask: But what we can use beside or instead of Databases?
There are a lot of tools that fallowing CAP, BASE model, instead of ACID model. But first let's describe ACID:
- Atomicity: A transaction is all or nothing
- Consistency: Only valid data is written to the database
- Isolation: Pretend all transactions are happening serially and the data is correct
- Durability: what you write is what you get
- The problem with ACID is that it gives you too much; it trips you up when you are trying to scale a system across multiple nodes.
- Down time is unacceptable. So your system needs to be reliable. Reliability requires multiple nodes to handle machine failures.
- To make scalable systems that can handle lots and lots of reads and writes you need many more nodes.
- Once you try to scale ACID across many machines you hit problems with network failures and delays. The algorithms don't work in a distributed environment at any acceptable speed.
In other hand CAP model is about:
- Consistency: Your data is correct all the time. What you write is what you read.
- Availability: You can read and write and write your data all the time.
- Partition Tolerance: If one or more nodes fails the system still works and becomes consistent when the system comes on-line.
- CAP is easy to scale, distribute. CAP is scalable by nature.
- Everyone who builds big applications builds them on CAP. Who use CAP: Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Kngine, Amazon, eBay, etc.
For example in any in-memory or in-disk caching system you will never need all the Database features. You just need CAP like system. Today there are a lot of: column oriented, and key-value oriented systems. But first let's describe Column oriented:
A column-oriented is a database management system (DBMS) which stores its content by column rather than by row. This has advantages for databases such as data warehouses and library catalogues, where aggregates are computed over large numbers of similar data items. This approach is contrasted with row-oriented databases and with correlation databases, which use a value-based storage structure. For more information check Wikipedia page.
Distributed key-value stores:
Distributed column stores (Bigtable-like systems):
Something a little different:
Scaling Traffic: People Pod Pool of On Demand Self Driving Robotic Cars who Automatically Refuel from Cheap Solar
Update 17: Are Wireless Road Trains the Cure for Traffic Congestion? BY ADDY DUGDALE. The concept of road trains--up to eight vehicles zooming down the road together--has long been considered a faster, safer, and greener way of traveling long distances by car
Update 16: The first electric vehicle in the country powered completely by ultracapacitors. The minibus can be fully recharged in fifteen minutes, unlike battery vehicles, which typically takes hours to recharge.
Update 15: How to Make UAVs Fully Autonomous. The Sense-and-Avoid system uses a four-megapixel camera on a pan tilt to detect obstacles from the ground. It puts red boxes around planes and birds, and blue boxes around movement that it determines is not an obstacle (e.g., dust on the lens).
Update 14: ATNMBL is a concept vehicle for 2040 that represents the end of driving and an alternative approach to car design. Upon entering ATNMBL, you are presented with a simple question: "Where can I take you?" There is no steering wheel, brake pedal or driver's seat. ATNMBL drives for you. Electric powered plus solar assist, with wrap-around seating for seven, ATNMBL offers living and/or working comfort, views, conversations, entertainment, and social connectedness.
Update 13: The Next Node on the Net? Your Car!. A new radio system developed in Australia is transforming the vehicles on the street into nodes on a network.
Update 12: United Arab Emirates building network of driverless electric taxis. When the system's fully built, planners say the podcars will be able to deliver riders within 100 meters of any location in the city. The whole network of tracks for the cars will be two stories beneath street level.
Update 11: Self-driving cars set to cut fuel consumption. Large-scale test seeks to put humans in the back seat. NEDO says it will start testing several key technologies that allow for autonomous driving between 2010 and 2012.
Update 10: Fighting Traffic Jams With Data. Researchers from different universities are working on ways for cars to better communicate with each other and relay crucial driver information such as traffic speed, weather and road conditions.
Update 9: Accident Ahead? New Software Will Enable Cars To Make Coordinated Avoidance Maneuvers. In dangerous situations, the cars can independently perform coordinated maneuvers without their drivers having to intervene. In this way, they can quickly and safely avoid one another.
Update 8: Great article in Wired on Better Place's proposal for a new electric car distribution system. The idea is to blanket the country with "smart" charge spots. You buy your car from them and purchase a recharge plan. Profit come from selling electricity.
Update 7: Capturing solar energy from asphalt pavements. An interesting way to make the system self-sufficient.
Update 6: Why We Drive the Way We Do Unlocks How to Unclog Traffic. Vanderbilt says: The fundamental problem is that you've got drivers who make user-optimal rather than system-optimal decisions. Josh McHugh replies: Make the packets (cars) dumb and able to take marching orders from traffic routing nodes.
Update 5: Traffic jams are not caused by flaws in road design but by flaws in human nature. Nearly 80 percent of crashes involve drivers not paying attention for up to three seconds. The both good and scary thing about computers is they always pay attention.
Update 4: Volvo Says It Will Have An Injury Proof Car By 2020.
Update 3: Map Reading For Dummies. Europe (again) is developing a system that will read satellite navigation maps and warn the driver of upcoming hazards – sharp bends, dips and accident black spots – which may be invisible to the driver. Even better, the system can update the geographic database. Another key capability of the People Pod system.
Update 2: Road Safety: The Uncrashable Car?. A European research project basic could lead to a car that is virtually uncrashable. An uncrashable car would definitely ease people's concerns over computerized navigation.
Update: Shockwave traffic jam recreated for first time - "Pinpointing the causes of shockwave jams is an exercise in psychology more than anything else. 'If they had set up an experiment with robots driving in a perfect circle, flow breakdown would not have occurred. Human error is needed to cause the fluctuations in behaviour.'"
Traffic in the San Francisco Bay area is like Dolly Parton, 10 pounds in a 5 pound sack. Mass transit has been our unseen traffic woe savior for a while. But the ring of political fire circling the bay has prevented any meaningful region wide transportation solution. As everyone scrambles to live anywhere they can afford, we really need a region wide solution rather than the local fixes that can never go quite far enough. The solution: create a People Pod Pool of On Demand Self Driving Robotic Cars who Automatically Refuel from Cheap Solar.
Commuters are Satisfied Not Carpooling
You might think we would car pool more. But people of the bay don't like carpools and they don't much like mass transit either. In the Metro, a local weekly, they published a wonderful article Fueling the Fire, on how we need to cure our car addiction using the same marginalization techniques used to "stop" smoking.
A telling quote shows how difficult going cold turkey off our cars will be:
Mitch Baer, a public policy and environment graduate student at George Mason University in Virginia, recently surveyed more than 2,000 commuters in the Washington, D.C., area. He found that people who drove to work alone were more emotionally satisfied with their commute than those who rode public transportation or carpooled with others.
Even stuck in traffic jams, those commuters said they felt they had more control over their arrival and departure times as well as commuting route, radio stations and air conditioning levels.
Commuters said that driving alone was both quicker and more affordable, according to the study.
"They will have a tougher time moving people out of their cars," Baer said. "It's easier for most people to drive than take mass transit."
The key phrase to me is: people who drove to work alone were more emotionally satisfied. How can people jostled in the great pinball machine that are our roadways be emotionally satisfied? That's crazy talk. Shouldn't we feel less satisfied?
In Our Cars We Feel Good Because We Are in Control
Solving the mystery of why we feel satisfied while stuck in traffic turns on an important psychological clue: the more we perceive ourselves in control of a situation the less stress we feel. Robert Sapolsky talks about this surprising insight into human nature in Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.
Notice we simply need more "perceived" control. Take control of a situation in your mind and stress goes down. You don't actually need to be in more control of a situation to feel less stress. If you have diabetes, facing your possibly bleak future can be less stressful if you try to control your blood sugars. If you are a speed demon, buying a radar detector can make you feel more in control and less stressed as you zoom along the seldom empty highways. If you are bullied, figuring out ways to avoid your torturer puts you more in control and therefor less stressed.
Figure out a way to control and an out of control situation and you'll feel happier. That's what I think we are accomplishing by driving alone in cars. In our car we have complete control. Cars are our castles with a 2 inch air moat cushion. Most cars are plusher than any room in your average house. Fine leather, a rad sound system, perfect temperature control, and a nice beverage of choice within easy reaching distance. In our cars we've created a second womb. The result is we feel more control, less stress, and more satisfaction, even when outside, across the moat, a tempestuous sea of stressors await.
Our Mass Transit System Must Supply Perceived Control
Given the warm inner glow we feel from being wrapped in the cold steel of our cars, if you want people to get out of their cars and onto mass transit you must provide the same level of perceived control. None of our mass transit options do that now. Buses are on fixed schedules that don't go where I want to go when I want to go. Neither do trains, BART, or light rail. So the car it is. Unless a system could be devised that provided the benefits of mass transit plus the pleasing characteristics of control our cars give us.
With Recent Technological Advances We Can Create a New Type of Mass Transit System
New technologies are being developed the will allow us to create a mass transit system that matches our psychological and physical needs. Just berating people and telling them they should take mass transit to save the planet won't work. The pain is too near and the benefits are too far for the mental cost-benefit calculation to go the way of mass transit.
The technologies I am talking about are:
Mix these all together and you get a completely different type of mass transit system. A mashup, if you will.
Create a People Pod Pool of On Demand Autonomous Self Driving Robotic Cars that Automatically Refuel from Cheap SolarMany company campuses offer a pool of bicycles so workers can ride between buildings and make short trips. Some cities even make bikes available to their citizens. The idea is to do the same for cars, but with a twist or two.
The cars (people pods) can be stored close to demand points and you can call for one anytime you wish. The cars are self driving. You don't actually drive them and are free to work or play during transit. Different kinds would be available depending on your purpose. Just one person on a shopping trip would receive a different car than a family. The pods would autonomously search out and find energy sources as needed to recharge.There's no reason to assume a centralized charging and storage facility. When repair was needed they could drive themselves to a repair depot or wait for the people pod ambulance service.
The advantages of such a system are:
It's a Usable System so People Would Use ItAfter a lot of reading on the topic and a lot of self-examination on why I am such a horrible person that I don't use mass transit more, this is the type of system I could really see myself using. It doesn't try to change the world, it uses what we got, and gives people what they want. It just might work.
Robert Scoble with a cool interview on the future of driving without traffic jams: Stanford Automotive, part II: The future of autonomous cars
Sokolsky estimates that many of the features that Junior employs, like cameras monitoring lanes and blind spot detection, will start becoming standard over the next ten years. But he also thinks that people will have to adapt, at least as much as the cars. “In some ways I think the technology is going to come along much faster than both the legal issues and societal acceptance,” says Sokolsky. “Because you’re going to have to convince people to give up driving their car everywhere, and some people are going to be extremely reluctant to do that. In this field, we sort of lose sight of this, but we talk to people, and they say, ‘That sounds terrifying.’ There’s a lot to overcome in terms of that.”
In this article we follow a hypothetical programmer, Damian, on his quest to make his web application scalable.
Read the full article on Bytepawn