Making Stuff 2 | Part 1 of 4: Faster

Making Stuff 2 | Part 1 of 4: Faster

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Civilization, is built on the human drive, to invent. We take the raw stuff of our planet, materials that give names to the ages-- stone, bronze, iron and more-- and craft them into new forms, expanding our horizons, exploring hidden worlds, and engineering life-saving technologies, always pushing the limits to be colder... faster... safer... wilder...

and now, a new era is upon us. We are living in the age of fast. Everywhere you look, scientists are discovering new ways to make stuff faster.

This is nothing! Gun it! Come on! POGUE: From ultra fast electric cars... It was like... (vrooming) POGUE: building machines that use human energy more efficiently than ever. What is that? POGUE: Faster is not just about speed for speed's sake. It's also about how efficiently you can get things done.

Because time is money-- big money. Milliseconds are translating into millions of dollars a year? It sure is. POGUE: From discovering the quickest way to board a plane... Man, there's got to be a faster way to load an airplane! You know, there is a faster way to load an airplane. POGUE: ultrafast Internet connections.

Speed tends to drive innovation. POGUE: Going faster is transforming our lives. Whether it's running a race, a stock trade, or exploring the universe, the history of human achievement is written by those who get there first. NEIL ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man... POGUE: I'm David Pogue. Join me on a quest to make stuff faster! I'm a rocket man! Major funding for {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}NOVA {\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}is provided by the following...

And the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and: Major funding for "Making Stuff" is provided by: Additional funding is provided by: POGUE: So why do we go faster? Sometimes to explore, sometimes to make money, and sometimes just because we want to win. Case in point, the America's Cup, the world's most prestigious sailboat race. So what happens when you take more than a century of engineering know-how, add billionaire Larry Ellison and some of the world's best marine and aerospace engineers? What you get is not your father's sailboat. How fast do these puppies go? The top speeds are a little over 50 miles an hour. POGUE: That's over twice the speed of a traditional sailboat.

KRAMERS: So there's only one purpose: you just have to win a sailboat race, that's all. POGUE: This is the Oracle, the United States' entry. It cost Ellison over $100 million and he has hired the best crew money can buy. Australian Jimmy Spithill is the skipper. That high and the adrenaline and all that, it's just so addictive.

POGUE: Built almost entirely of carbon fiber, they're about the same length but four times lighter than a traditional America's Cup boat. With just a few months to go before the race, I was invited onboard for a shakedown run. I'm one of the few non-crew members who's been allowed to sail with Spithill and his team.

And here we go. If you've been on a sailboat before, you might notice this is nothing like it. There's no galley, there's no bathroom, there's no wheelhouse, it's just pure speed. POGUE: Going faster in boats is not just about winning. For almost all of human history, every increase in nautical speed has shrunk the globe and exploded our horizons. Faster boats allowed the Phoenicians to bring the alphabet to the world, Columbus to discover America and Magellan to circle the earth.

Today it's the speed of information that is rapidly shrinking our world with ultra fast Internet connections and creating an economy where speed is measured in nanoseconds. We are hard-wired for speed, and whether it's pushing information to travel at the speed of light or jumping out of a balloon to break the sound barrier, today we are smashing through limits long thought unbreakable. But with speed comes danger. From high-speed computer crashes roiling the financial markets... NEWSCASTER: This market is dropping precipitously.

POGUE: the high seas drama of the America's Cup, the faster we go, the harder we fall. These boats reward pushing hard. You push too hard, though, it can be catastrophic. POGUE: There's safety everywhere.

We're all harnessed to the boat like this. We've got oxygen, got a knife, and we have bright orange sleeves so if we go in the water, we're easy to spot. POGUE: The limit to how fast all things can go is determined by two factors.

The first is energy: how much you can put into a system. Sailboats, obviously, get their energy from wind. But here, Oracle's engineers were able to smash through what you'd think would be a natural limit: the speed of the wind itself.

The Oracle takes 15 miles an hour of wind and turns it into over 40 miles an hour of forward speed. And they do that by rethinking the most basic element of a sailboat. It might seem crazy, but this sailboat doesn't have a sail.

Instead, it has a wing. POGUE: This 131-foot-high carbon fiber wing is the boat's engine. So how does this giant airfoil work? Hold this piece of paper to your mouth and blow along the top edge and see what happens to the piece of paper. Okay, whoa.

POGUE: The paper is lifting for the same reason Frisbees float and airplanes fly. In each case, wind traveling under the curved surface has a higher pressure than the wind above, creating lift. The same is true for sailboats, but the sail isn't horizontal, it's vertical. So here, the boat isn't pushed by the wind, it's pulled forward by low pressure. In other words, it's sort of sucking you forward? It's sucking you forward, exactly. To use the nautical term.

Yes. POGUE: Traditional sails work the same way, but because they're flexible, they absorb some of the wind's energy. Boat designers have known for years that a rigid wing would be much more efficient. The problem was they were way too heavy.

Carbon fiber changed that. Bottom line? This boat doesn't sail-- it flies. POGUE: The second key to speed is reducing resistance.

As a boat moves through the water, it's slowed down by drag. So how do you solve that problem? Their idea was to get this entire six-ton boat to lift out of the water and surf on a foil of carbon fiber. KURT JORDAN: It's an airfoil, just like a wing on an airplane.

I mean, the fluid, whether it's air or water, accelerates over one surface faster than the other. POGUE: In theory, it would rise up in the water just like an airplane through the air. But how about real life? All right, we should pick up speed. And if the boat goes fast enough, those foils in the water will do their thing and lift the boat out of the water.

The speed is intense. Once this thing lifts up out of the water, suddenly you're looking down 15 feet. It's like flying.

It's like nothing you've done before. POGUE: After two years of training, the moment of truth arrives for team Oracle. Their opponent, New Zealand, comes to the line in an equally innovative boat.

In spite of all the technical breakthroughs that have gone into building the world's fastest boats, the America's Cup will come down to the people who sail them. ANNOUNCER: The entire sailing world holds its breath. They approach the line for the start of race number one of the 34th America's Cup. POGUE: The first team to win nine races takes home the America's Cup. With boats, I've learned that going faster is about how efficiently you can turn the energy put into the system-- in this case, the wind-- into forward motion.

With the America's Cup, the breakthroughs were in the sail and the underwater foil. But we can apply the same ideas to an even more basic form of human locomotion: running. From Pheidippides, who ran the first Greek marathon, to Roger Bannister smashing the four-minute mile, we've celebrated those who have run fastest. Is there a way to make our mechanical systems, our bodies, more efficient and faster? To find out, I've come to Southern Methodist University in Dallas to have a friendly race against Don Miguel, a competitive sprinter from Trinidad. 11 flat. POGUE: Our timekeeper, SMU professor Peter Weyand.

18:04 for David. POGUE: Weyand is a professor of speed. His lab is a high-tech lair equipped with ultra fast cameras and a $100,000 treadmill designed to measure the force of a runner's step. Weyand believes that force is the key to speed, and he's about to show me why. How fast is this? WEYAND: It's not as fast as it looks. This is nothing! Gun it! Come on! What do you got? Wow, I'm like a human cheetah! Look at that! It's magnificent! WEYAND: Yeah, you look great in slow motion, David.

POGUE: Though I may be slow, when I looked at Don and me in slow motion, I was struck not by the differences, but the similarities. WEYAND: So what you can see is the time each of you spends in the air and the time that each of you takes to pick the limb up and put it back down in front of the body for the next step is about the same. And that's true, generically speaking, from Usain Bolt to little old ladies. POGUE: Weyand has brought hundreds of runners through this lab and it turns out that at top speed, every one of them, including me, spends almost exactly the same amount of time repositioning limbs in between steps: about 0.3 seconds. Our actual strides are happening, we're moving our legs at the same speed? That's right. That guy and me? Competitive sprinter, you, a little old lady.

Our legs all go at the same speed? The time to reposition the limbs is the same at the top speed of each of those runners. POGUE: So what makes Don faster? WEYAND: What the competitive sprinters do is they hit the ground harder, and hitting the ground harder makes your body move faster. POGUE: When you put the graphs of Don's force and mine next to each other, the difference becomes clear. I'm hitting the ground with around 500 pounds of force. Don? 700. The only part I don't understand is you're saying pushing down harder propels you forward faster, but it seems like pushing down harder would propel you up faster.

I want to go that way. WEYAND: In the acceleration portion of a race, runners tend to lean forward so they can push backward, but that's a very short portion of a race. POGUE: Weyand says after the first few steps, runners reach their maximum speed.

From there, momentum keeps them moving forward. And the harder they hit the ground, the more time they spend in the air, and the more of their momentum they preserve. You push down on the ground with your limbs to pop back up so you can maintain your forward momentum. POGUE: This all seems well and good. But if force is speed, how do I increase mine? Typically, what the very fast people do is... Can we freeze it on the next contact? When this foot comes down, the knees should be...

in a good sprinter, those knees will be right together. If you eliminate the forward lean, get more upright, have your body be stiff, and then you want to smack the foot down hard. Upright posture.

Keep the lower body stiff. Slam harder. WEYAND: Good! You felt a difference, didn't you? POGUE: Yeah, I mean it felt like a totally different kind of running. I couldn't have told you if it was faster.

The peak forces before were running at about 450 pounds per step. The peak forces after are well over 500, 525 to 550. So that's a dramatic improvement in a matter of minutes just from implementing a short set of instructions.

Wow, that's amazing! WEYAND: If you can do that for the entire race, you should come down by at least a half a second to a second. Dog! All right. Body upright. Rigid hips. Hit the ground.

Hit the ground, hit the ground, force down. Ready, set, go! POGUE: Understanding the physics behind how we run... There you go, 16.7. I shaved two seconds! POGUE: ...helped me more efficiently turn the energy from my muscles into speed.

To go faster and farther with those same muscles, you'd need a machine. From the first dug-out canoe to the Daedalus, a human-powered plane, we have been building machines that try to get the most out of our engines: our bodies. But the machine that really pushes the limits of human-powered speed is a bicycle.

It's the most efficient human-powered vehicle there is. But what would you need to transform this humble means of transportation into a human-powered rocket? To find out, I went to Holland. My guide is Delft University human power team cyclist Sebastiaan Bowier. You want to go fast? POGUE: He's invited me to go along for a ride. Come on.

POGUE: Sebastiaan keeps an eye on our speed. At the moment, we're going 20 miles an hour. POGUE: He also has a meter to measure our power. And we're using about 350 watts. 350 watts? Yeah. You make me sound like an electrical machine.

POGUE: But it's true; it's the same kind of watts. The amount of power it takes to light up seven 50-watt light bulbs is equal to the power I'm generating to go 20 miles an hour on this bicycle. 350 watts of raw TV host power! POGUE: So how to get more speed out of the energy I'm putting in? I'm in the groove! POGUE: The answer is coming up fast. I'm a rocket man! What was that?! That's a recumbent. Recumbent? Yes.

As in lying down? Yeah, you lay on your back and because you are in a flat position, you have a lot less wind resistance. POGUE: Almost half the wind resistance. So at the moment, we're doing, uh, 350 watts... POGUE: Compared to the racing bike, that 350 watts it took to go 20 miles an hour will get you...

25 miles an hour. POGUE: That's 25% faster with the same power. So that's cool, just by making a few changes in the design you wind up with the world's fastest bike concept. Yeah, except for that. What is that? That's called the Velox 3.

Velox 3. POGUE: The Velox 3 has a singular mission: to become the world's fastest human-powered vehicle. Sebastiaan is hoping that in a few months, he can pedal it fast enough to break the record.

It's a recumbent bicycle wrapped in an aerodynamic shell. Using the same 350 watts, today's top speed was 40 miles an hour, a 100% increase in speed over the conventional bike, and believe it or not, that's nowhere near top speed. I was really easy, uh, pedaling because there is a lot of wind, so I didn't want to push it. That was easy pedaling? Yeah.

POGUE: Sebastiaan's all-out power is 800 watts, which means he should be able to go... WOUTER LION: 80 miles an hour. 80 miles an hour for a bike? Yeah, it's about 80 miles an hour. That's the goal, of course. POGUE: As a goal, sure, but 80 miles an hour on a bicycle? That would be more than twice as fast as the fastest Tour de France bike. They took me into the Delft University human-powered lab to show me how they designed the Velox 3 to do just that.

WOUTER: There are, in total, three bikes we've built. POGUE: Each design is refined to further reduce wind resistance. Anything that creates drag is eliminated. And I mean {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}anything.

BOWIER: There is no window, so it's completely dark in there. It's way better aerodynamically to put a camera at the back and just see through a screen. POGUE: This all leads me to wonder: Is it really even fair to call this thing a bicycle? Uh, it still has two wheels, and you have to power it yourself, so yeah, it's a bike.

It's sort of more of a rocket to me. POGUE: As you might imagine, when you're piloting a human-powered rocket at speeds approaching 80 miles per hour, the stakes are high. This was Sebastiaan a year ago. Amazingly, he escaped without a scratch.

Now, one year later, he's back at the exact same deserted stretch of highway in the Nevada desert to break the world record of 82.8 miles per hour. With time running out, this is his final run. He does it, piloting the Velox 3 to a speed of 83.1 miles an hour, a new world record.

Of course, if you want speed, who needs a bike? (engine revving) Try a '72 Buick Skylark, 350 small block, and get some serious internal combustion muscle. For all its failings, gasoline power is a cheap, efficient means of transportation. What is that, a matchbox car? MAN: Yeah, it'll match your (bleep), that's what it'll do. I don't think you know what you're picking on here. POGUE: But as I was about to find out... Are you challenging me? I sure am.

POGUE: If you want to get more speed and power out of a car... To the track? See you there. POGUE: have to unplug your old ideas about what makes cars fast. ANNOUNCER: David Pogue faces off against John Wayland in a 1972 Datsun.

POGUE: Whoa! What's going on here? 11.8 seconds? He blew my doors off! What is this? It's a Datsun. I see it's a Datsun, but what's under the hood? You know what? More important, what's in the trunk? (laughing) What is it, a flux capacitor from Back to the Future? WAYLAND: That is a lithium polymer battery pack.

This is an electric car? You didn't know that? POGUE: We're not talking about a Prius here. It may look like a 1972 Datsun, but underneath this humble exterior lurks the white Zombie, which holds the record for the world's quickest street-legal electric car. So where is, like, the pistons and the carburetor? WAYLAND: Pistons? There are no pistons. There is no carburetor. There is a controller and there's an electric motor and there's a battery pack. It's that simple.

POGUE: That's the entire system? WAYLAND: Yeah. It generates 538 horsepower. POGUE: That's 50% more horsepower than my muscle car. But it's not the ponies that make the Zombie so quick.

So it's all about acceleration, and at the drag track, to accelerate, you need torque. Wait, so what do you mean by torque? I thought that's one of those things that's a spoon and a fork combined. POGUE: Torque is turning force. It's the amount of energy you need to open a jar or turn a wrench.

In the case of cars, it's the amount of force that's applied by the engine to the axle to turn the car's wheels. It's usually measured in a unit called foot-pounds. And how many does this car get? 1,250. POGUE: That's more than a Dodge Viper and this souped-up Porsche combined. More than any car on the road ever. So if this was stopped at a stoplight...

(engine revving) ...and you had the most powerful gas car in the world next to you... WAYLAND: That would be a Bugatti Veyron, about a $2 million car. And the light turns green... The Bugatti would be looking at our taillights instantly. POGUE: Believe it or not, the hard part wasn't building a motor that powerful, it was figuring out a way to power it. In the case of the Zombie, to go from zero to 60 in 1.8 seconds,

Wayland needed serious power: more than 50 Prius batteries' worth. So how did he get that kind of juice? It took over 15 years of trial and error, dead ends and false starts, until the answer came to him from the sky. The batteries that start these Apache helicopters are some of the most powerful and efficient around. They use lithium, a highly reactive element, which means it can store a lot of energy-- six times as much per ounce-- as the lead in your car's batteries.

Problem is, lithium-based batteries store so much energy that they can also get really hot and start fires. The solution was to combine it with manganese, which generates much less heat. Wayland reconfigured them to power the Zombie. WAYLAND: There are 12 actual batteries. POGUE: And not only do they allow him to go really fast, they also allow him to go farther on a charge.

WAYLAND: So all of a sudden, my little car here, instead of just being quick and fast, we're going 100 miles on a charge. POGUE: Okay, I'm sold! How much do you want for this? Oh, no, it's not for sale. Would you like to drive it, though? Okay, it's going to peel your face back a little bit. Your vision may get a little blurry at first because the blood runs out of your retinas.

Oh, man! It's kind of like being shot out of a cannon. You'll be fine, man. Thanks a lot.

I think. Woo-hoo, yeah! WAYLAND: Suckin' amps, man! POGUE: So far, the breakthroughs I've discovered in making stuff faster have been tied to the speedometer: finding ways to cover more distance in less time. But there's a whole other breed of speed: it gets you there faster not because you're breaking a speed limit, but because you're breaking a time limit. It's called operations research, or optimization: figuring out the fastest way to complete a task.

It got its start in 1840 after Charles Babbage, the father of the computer, helped the British Postal Service figure out the most efficient way to deliver mail. Back then, scientists used slide rules to solve these kinds of problems. Today, they use supercomputers. So you would think it would be pretty easy to come up with a solution.

Well, it turns out that problems like this are still way too big for even the fastest computers. For example, what is the most efficient way to deliver 16 million packages a day? That's the problem that Jack Levis and his team at UPS are trying to solve. To understand what they're up against, let's pretend I have an Aunt Gertie and I want to send a package to her. Its journey begins in San Francisco Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m.

By 2:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, it lands in Philadelphia, only 140 miles from Aunt Gertie. 7:00 a.m., it arrives here at the UPS shipping center

in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It's already traveled over 2,500 miles in less than 12 hours. It would seem like the hard part's done, but as I found out, it's just the beginning. Once it's on the truck, figuring out the fastest way to get it the final four miles to Aunt Gertie's-- that's the real challenge.

To do that, you have to solve a very difficult and complex math problem. The traveling salesman problem. POGUE: Traveling salesman problem? LEVIS: The traveling salesman problem. POGUE: What's that? LEVIS: It poses the question of what's the most efficient way to visit locations, just like a traveling salesman used to have to figure out.

POGUE: Simple, right? Turns out that this problem has vexed generations of mathematicians. LEVIS: Let's say you have an office on Main Street and you have three customers: one's on Elm, one's on High and one's on Maple. You know the time and distance between them, but what's the most efficient way to visit these customers? So Elm, High, Maple, that's one... Maple, High, Elm, that's two... High, Elm, Maple, three...

High, Maple, Elm, four... Four. Well, there's six. You know how I know there's six? How? LEVIS: With three customers, it's three times two times one.

There's six ways. If you double that to six customers, now there's 720 ways. At 12 customers, there's 479 million ways. If you had 25 locations to go through, there's 15 and a half trillion {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}trillion{\r} different ways to visit 25 locations. Trillion {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}trillion? POGUE: So if a 25-stop route has trillions and trillions of possible combinations, imagine how many possibilities there are in the 140-stop route that will take my package to Aunt Gertie.

There's not even a number to articulate this. There's more ways to deliver this route than the number of nanoseconds the Earth has been in existence. POGUE: So if the traveling salesman problem is too tough for the world's largest computer, how do you solve it? By building a smarter program. It's called Orion. How does it actually calculate the route? Well, it's gonna start with something that's just very simplistic. It's not gonna think like you thinking ahead.

It's gonna say, "Who's my nearest neighbor?" So it's gonna start at the beginning. "What's closest to me?" It might go to the next stop closest. So when it's done in its very first iteration, it's created a route that looks like a kindergartener would have created. And then it says, "Now, what's wrong with that?" POGUE: In this case, it does that by breaking the task down into sets of smaller problems, each with five variables with 120 possible solutions.

The first step is starting with clusters of five stops and figuring out the most efficient way to deliver packages within that cluster. It arranges them into larger groups of five and figures out the most efficient way to move between them. Finally, it connects them all together and arrives at a solution, with only thousands of calculations total. And it does all this in a few seconds. But that's just the start.

LEVIS: We have 8:30s, we got 10:30s, we got noons, we have... POGUE: Deliveries promised by a certain time. Throw those into the mix, and it makes finding a solution nearly infinitely more difficult. Now you try to do that on your own and think of the number of combinations you would have to think through. POGUE: Now here's the thing: Orion is not looking for the perfect solution, it's looking for an optimal solution that can be figured out in a few seconds.

The question: is this better than what a human without a time limit could come up with? With human pride on the line, I decided to pit man versus machine and see if I could come up with a quicker way to get to Aunt Gertie's house. And... home. POGUE: All right, so how do I compare with Orion? LEVIS: The only way to know is to give it a try. You ready to brown up? Excuse me? POGUE: Before I do my own route... I have to do a little boot camp. Permission to come aboard, sir? Yes, sir! POGUE: I ride with veteran driver Tim Ahn.

(honking) I've done it for close to ten years. POGUE: Tim says it's not just about planning the fastest route, it's about how fast you can get that route done. Perpetual motion. Multitasking. AHN: Okay, I gotta move along here. Have you ever delivered a baby, or...?

(laughing) I've never done that. POGUE: I'm ready to put my traveling salesman solution to the test. You got four next-day-air packages that gotta be done by 10:30. This one by 3:00 p.m.

You got business customers that need to be delivered earlier part of the day. Okay. Pick-ups. They can set their watch by the time we get there. Good luck. That's logistics, buddy. POGUE: The challenge here, me driving my route and Tim driving Orion's.

UPS! LEVIS: It's 10:30, Tim's completed 28 stops, which is pretty good. David's only got 21 stops off by now. 12:30, Tim's got 48 stops done and he's on lunch. David's actually catching up. He's gotten 54 stops done by now, but he hasn't even taken his break. He's got to start that hour break right now.

AHN: UPS! LEVIS: It's 2:30 and you know they're neck and neck right now. Tim's delivered 73 stops and David's at stop 74. So they're neck and neck but David still has some businesses he hasn't delivered yet. 4:30, Tim's now moving well ahead of David. UPS! LEVIS: You know, those businesses are going to close in the next hour. It's 6:28 and Tim is back in the building.

David's got ten more stops to do. Surprise! Oh, my gosh! What have you been up to? Oh, my goodness. It looks exactly like you. Oh, thank you. Oh, I love it! It's been such a long time. Yes, it has.

Now could you just please sign here? Great, see ya. You bet. LEVIS: It's 7:04 and David is just now coming in, 25 or 30 minutes later than Tim. We gotta talk. For a first-timer, looking as a crow flies solution, it's really pretty good, but you are about ten miles over our Orion solution. If every driver just drove one additional mile per day, after a year, that'd be $30 million.

So ten miles for us... $300 million.. a lot. POGUE: And it only gets worse. My route took 39 minutes longer than Orion's to complete. Companywide, that would be a loss of millions of hours a year.

We'd be out of business. I'm sorry, David,be a loss but I need the browns You're firing me? POGUE: We, haa good run, but I was no match for Orion.

With a plan that would, at best, bankrupt one of the largest shipping companies in the world, it was time for me to move on. From getting packages there on the ground to getting people there by air, these kinds of problems are everywhere you look. Case in point, did you ever feel like you spent more time boarding a plane than actually flying in it? Oh man, there's got to be a faster way to load an airplane! You know, there is a faster way to load an airplane.

Who are you? I'm Jason Steffen. You've spent some time thinking about how to load a plane, have you? Yeah, I wrote a computer model, ran some simulations. Are you like a computer scientist or something? No, I'm an astrophysicist. POGUE: How does an astrophysicist from Fermilab get so fired up about finding a faster way to board a plane? Don't touch me! POGUE: By getting stuck in line waiting for one. I just thought to myself, there's got to be a better way to do this.

POGUE: Not a difficult problem, or so he thought. The answer was obvious: that you should board from the back of the plane to the front. And so I wrote a piece of software. When I ran it, turned out that it wasn't the best way. It seemed to be exactly the same as what I thought the worst way was, which would be boarding from the front of the plane to the back.

POGUE: Out of ideas, he was overwhelmed by the sheer number of possible plans he might have to try before arriving at the solution. STEFFEN: The number of possible ways of boarding an airplane with 150 passengers would be like 150 factorial. POGUE: You remember factorials. STEFFEN: That's 150 times 149 times 148 times 147... POGUE: Just like UPS and the packages, this was too big a problem for a computer to handle. So what did you do? I did kind of a Monte Carlo-type simulation.

What's a Monte Carlo simulation? STEFFEN: Just like a casino with gambling and Monte Carlo, you basically roll the dice. POGUE: Over and over again, each time asking a question. STEFFEN: Does this change make an improvement? If so, then I'll accept it. If not, then I won't accept it.

POGUE: In this case, instead of random rolls of the dice, he ran random plane-boarding simulations, each time keeping the faster and throwing out the slower. Through this process of elimination, the computer came up with what Jason thinks is the best solution. STEFFEN: The way my method works is the first wave of passengers are going to sit in the even-numbered rows, every other row, in the window seats. And then you proceed to the odd-numbered rows in the window seats.

Then to the middle seats, then to the aisle seats. POGUE: But there's a catch: in order for Steffen's plan to work, the passengers have to board in 16 different groups. If they don't precisely follow the sequence, the system will break down. I don't think so. There's no way that's going to work. And who are you? I'm Doug Lawson, paleontologist.

A paleontologist? We're talking about boarding airplanes here! Well, I actually work for Southwest Airlines. POGUE: He really is a paleontologist and he does work for Southwest Airlines. On the first count, he discovered one of the largest creatures ever to fly the skies. On the second, he makes planes board faster. And what is his plan? LAWSON: What we do is we just let people get on and fill the plane up. POGUE: Southwest has no assigned seats; it just has passengers line up, board, and sit where they want.

Sounds like chaos. Oh yeah, it seems like that. But people interact with one another, and we just set it up so that we get the benefit from their behavior. POGUE: Lawson developed this plan after running hundreds of different, and I might add, rather unusual simulations. LAWSON: Lots of people refer to these simulations as ant simulations.

POGUE: Ants? But we're talking about airline passengers. Airline passengers are like ants in that they all have an individual job: they've got to get to a seat. And you watch what emerges as those individuals interact. POGUE: What emerges, he says, is order rather than chaos.

And, most importantly, speed. It's a shame we can't compare the two systems. Yeah, well, we can. We got a line of people waiting to get on a plane, right? Let's do a couple of experiments. We're going to have a battle? A battle of the plane-boarding systems? Right! Awesome! What we have here is a Southwest Airlines 737, with which we intend to perform a historic experiment.

We are going to find out, once and for all, what is the fastest way to board an airplane. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Sky Harbor International Airport airplane boarding smackdown. In this corner, from Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, the challenger, weighing in at 155 pounds, creator of the Monte Carlo plane boarding system, Jason "The Supernova" Steffen! (cheering) And in this corner, the champion from Niotaze, Kansas, creator of the Southwest Airlines open boarding plan, Doug "The Dinosaur" Lawson! (cheering) POGUE: You know the players.

You know the plans. Let's get down to business! After the A group has boarded... POGUE: First up, the Lawson open boarding plan. Passengers sit wherever they like. The current industry standard for speed.

This is going to be a completely full flight. POGUE: Everyone is set, queued, ready to go. And start the clock! LAWSON: So they'll start filling in in the front here, so you can see... POGUE: Doug, I see we're having an overhead bin problem in 23.

What's going on there? LAWSON: Yeah, well, you know, they're going to have to squish it down to try to get it in there. You know what they say, Doug. If it weren't for the passengers, this would be a pleasant business. Right, we'd always be on time. POGUE: Now this is going very, very smoothly, as I can see here.

Jason Steffen, I gotta imagine this is making you sweat a little bit. STEFFEN: One of the things that you run into because people don't want to sit in the middle is that eventually, people are going to have to start climbing over the person in the aisle seat. POGUE: And looks like we're complete.

Stop the clock! Stop the clock! 10 minutes, 40 seconds, an impressive time to beat. And we're ready for round two. Tickets? POGUE: We're going to board the same aircraft using the Jason Steffen plan. That's A-52. POGUE: Steffen's plan, as you remember, is to divide folks into 16 different groups. Have them sit in the windows first, then middles, and finally aisles.

A great idea, in theory. But as we're seeing, it requires a lot of planning and direction. And... start the clock!

Welcome aboard! POGUE: If everything goes smoothly, you won't have people ever climbing over each other or having to get out to let a middle in, because the windows will all be in first, the middles will all follow. Right, and that's what's happening right now. Right now, you know, people are filing in.

POGUE: Doug, give me a critique of what might fail with this system. If we can't get the window people in first, then we're going to see these jam-ups if people were not in order. POGUE: And sure enough, at barely two minutes in, a breakdown in the order. STEFFEN: It looks like that person, they're not supposed to be sitting there. Oh, it appears, in other words, that the Steffen plan might be unraveling at the edges, just as Lawson predicted. And because of that, the line's kind of backing up here a little bit.

POGUE: That should not be happening. STEFFEN: The worst that can happen is that it turns into basically a random boarding process. I hate to say it, Jason, but I'm seeing a little bit of that right now. Even if you just put people on randomly... STEFFEN: They'll spread out. They would spread out.

When you guys say it that way, it makes it sound like the system used by most of the industry is about the dumbest possible way. Yeah. Yeah, that's about right. POGUE: Six minutes in, it looks like the Steffen plan has turned a corner.

The passengers seem to have finally gotten the hang of his system. It's looking pretty good. Indeed it is, they're bolting for the window seats...

Alternate rows... The aisle is being used much more efficiently because there's... STEFFEN: There's lots of people putting their luggage away at the same time. I must say it's going very smoothly now. And looks like we're complete! Stop the clock! Seven minutes, 57 seconds! A 34% improvement! POGUE: So while Steffen's plan won handily by a blistering two minutes and 43 seconds, Lawson says because it required such a precise boarding system, in the real world, it would not fly. It required so much detailed control over the whole process to get it to happen that way.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! And you just cannot get that kind of control in a real setting. POGUE: And so tonight it seems that Jason Steffen may have won, but in theory, probably not in practice. What does he have to say about that? I'm speechless.

(everyone laughs) POGUE: We've discovered that, in the business world, doing things faster is a science and it can be used to squeeze out every last bit of inefficiency, saving time and making money. But what if you could move the information itself faster? For centuries, businessmen have been in an information arms race. The story is told that in the 19th century, Nathan Rothschild used a carrier pigeon to receive the news of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo and made a fortune with that one piece of information.

Today, information travels in beams of light through fiber optic cables. That would have to be as fast as one could go, right? Well, not so fast. This is how they used to buy and sell stocks. This is how they do it today. This is Tradeworx headquarters in Red Bank, New Jersey, one of the largest stock trading firms in the country.

And these guys sitting at desks, they're not trading stocks, they're just babysitting the computers that do. MANOJ NARANG: Computers are doing 100% of the work. They're making all the decisions and they're doing all the trades. POGUE: It's called high frequency trading. Buying and selling stocks in fractions of a second, often making less than a penny a share. NARANG: Average profit margin is ten percent of a cent.

Per share. POGUE: But it adds up to millions, because along with speed comes volume. Our firm trades over one percent of the daily market volume of the stock market. Around 100 million shares a day, so it becomes a meaningful amount. POGUE: To make that meaningful amount, traders need to be the first to get information about prices. Speed is money.

In a very real way, speed is money. POGUE: And a war has broken out between traders to get that money. The weapon: the computer networks that move financial information. So a very interesting part of the so-called high-tech arms race is the transmission of information across long-distance financial corridors.

None of which is as important as the Chicago to New York corridor. POGUE: Some stocks trade on exchanges in both New York and Chicago. But say a particular stock is selling for a penny less in the Chicago market. Buying that stock in Chicago then immediately selling it in New York could turn a quick profit for whomever does it first. The question is: how can you be making decisions based on the most current financial information? Speed has been important in the markets since the advent of markets.

POGUE: For over 150 years, buy and sell orders were transmitted over copper cable, which ran along rail lines. It took a quarter of a second for a message to complete the 2,000-mile round trip. And for more than a century, there wasn't any faster way until fiber optic cable came along in the 1980s, zigzagging its way along the same path. Instead of copper, fiber optic is made of glass cable and carries messages in beams of light instead of electricity. It takes a beam of light 14.5 milliseconds for a roundtrip on this same path.

14.5 thousandths of a second. So how can they get faster than that? NARANG: Straightest poible path. POGUE: A straight line between New York and Chicago is 720 miles. NARANG: But it's virtually impossible to build that route because you have to actually go through people's property, you have to actually go through the water.

POGUE: Virtually impossible, but one of their competitors tried. It's that blue line. While they couldn't make a straight shot, their new path lopped about 175 miles off the existing one, bringing the roundtrip time down to 13.1 milliseconds. That's 1.4 thousandths of a second faster. That sort of differential can translate into millions of dollars of profit or loss over the course of a year. POGUE: Could anyone beat that? Reluctant to leave that money on the table, Tradeworx thinks they have found a way to get even faster.

Yes! POGUE: Tradeworx chief technology officer Mike Beller showed me what he says is the future of high-speed trading. It looks something like a New Jersey used car lot. I think it might be a New Jersey used car lot.

And next to it is our secret or maybe not so secret weapon in how to get from Chicago to New York faster than the next guy. Wow. BELLER: Come on through here and take a look up. This is a microwave tower.

POGUE: Wait, a microwave tower? BELLER: Yes, a microwave tower. POGUE: Whoa, whoa, whoa! MOVIE NARRATOR: Operates by microwave beam transmission from... POGUE: Isn't this old technology? From phone companies of the 1950s? Even so, their plan is to set up a network of dozens of these to bounce financial information between Chicago and New York. But I still don't understand how this can be faster than a fiber optic cable.

It's my impression that light generally travels at the speed of light. It does. So how could anything be faster than the speed of light? It just turns out that the speed of light in glass is a lot slower than the speed of light through the air. Light can travel this one foot of fiber in about 1.5 nanoseconds. That seems pretty fast. It does, but in the air, the microwave signal only takes one nanosecond to go a foot.

What's the total time savings from here to Chicago? Round trip, on the order of five milliseconds. POGUE: Shaving off those five milliseconds means they would get the roundtrip time down to 8.5 thousandths of a second. If they accomplish that, they'll gain an advantage that could make their customers tens of millions of dollars a year. Seems like a good deal. Speed is money, man.

It sure is. Hey! So great, those guys are off making millions of dollars every millisecond with their super-fast connections, while I'm waiting for the rest of my show to download. Hi, David.

Who are you? I'm Tom Morgan from Flatbush. Flatbush? Yeah, I'm a researcher in supercomputing at NYU Poly. POGUE: He really is a computer scientist and he really is from Flatbush, Brooklyn. You seem to be having some problems with your download. Well, is there anything I can do about it? Well, you can't build your own network like the traders did.

But you can go to Kansas City and we can conduct a little experiment there. Kansas City? Anyone home? Hi, welcome to the future. POGUE: The future? This looks like a frat house filled with pizza-eating geeks. CHRISTOPHER BARAN: You're in one of the homes of the Kansas City Start-up Village.

POGUE: The next generation of venture capitalists, software designers and engineers. I've also heard you were having some trouble trying to download your show. POGUE: Okay! How does everybody know this? See the little buffer thing? That'll never happen. POGUE: They've all moved to Kansas City because that's where the speed is.

It is the fastest Internet connection that you can get in the United States right now. About 200 times faster than the average connection. POGUE: The connection I was using to download the show was five megabits per second.

Okay, and how fast is yours? BARAN: 1,000. POGUE: So where does this speed come from? Internet giant Google has come to town and is wiring the city with... CARLOS CASAS: Fiber optic cables.

POGUE: Haven't we just been through this? Have you considered microwaves? Right now, what we have is strands of glass that transmit light. Yeah, fiber optic cable. The nation's Internet runs on something called a backbone, a network that moves data all around the country. Now, the backbone is fiber optic cable that runs underground and on telephone poles. But then they'll use copper from the pole to the home, which really, you know, slows down the connectivity.

POGUE: That's because torrents of data flowing at lightning speeds over fiber slow to a trickle when they hit that old copper line running into your house. CASAS: What we do with our service is we're actually bringing a strand of fiber directly into a person's home, which allows us to transmit speeds much faster than what they're used to. POGUE: Now, this kind of speed does not come cheap. It costs upwards of $500 to wire the average house with fiber optic.

But the hope is that as other Internet providers follow-- and some already have-- the price will drop. And what kind of difference would that make to my everyday life? Hi, David! Hi, Tom! You know, David, you were having trouble downloading your TV show. Maybe we can have just a little race. Fastest Internet in the country here against your pathetic Brooklyn Internet. Three... two... one... go!

POGUE: Whether it's pushing the speed that information travels over the Internet or attempting a world speed record on a remote desert highway, or sailing faster than the wind... SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Race number one of America's Cup! POGUE: ...speed isn't just pushing the limits of our bodies. It's about pushing the limits of our ingenuity. 30 seconds left. What do you got remaining? 45 minutes? POGUE: One thing is for certain.

Speed tends to drive innovation. POGUE: Transforming our world. A relatively unknown communication system called "the Internet." When we went from dial-up to broadband, all of a sudden, social media, even Google, became possible. Over 25 million people will be using it by the year 1998. POGUE: In less than a decade, we've come to take for granted the access to information, art and commerce that high-speed connections make possible.

But it's just the start. There are some things that are going to happen that we can't even imagine. POGUE: Because at its best...

FILM NARRATOR: ...saving time and labor. POGUE: Technology intended only to make things faster... FILM NARRATOR: This is a highly sophisticated computer.

POGUE: ...changes the way we live our lives. Those were foreign concepts. Now with the Internet, there's some things that we're going to have happen that we don't even know exist yet.

Four, three, two, one... We are done! How are you doing, Tom? Oh, about... Oh, 44 minutes. POGUE: But speed alone won't get us there. We still have to chart the course. Surprise! POGUE: And it was Sebastiaan Bowier's skill as a rider that propelled him to a world record.

In the America's Cup, the Oracle pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. ANNOUNCER: Emirates Team New Zealand 8 wins to 1. They were sitting on match point.

POGUE: After losing eight of the first nine races, the sailors of the American team fought their way back. ANNOUNCER: And it is Oracle Team USA that is just moments away from keeping the cup. POGUE: Proving once again that no matter how fast the boat, it's still the sailor who wins the race.

We can't know where faster will take us, but one thing seems certain: since our quest for speed is fueled by our curiosity, we will continue making stuff faster. {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}On{\r} NOVA's {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}website, you can{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}watch this and other episodes {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}of "Making Stuff." Can you guess what World War II {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}military tactics have to do {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}with the speedy delivery{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}of your next online order? {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}Take the "Making Stuff" quiz. {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}Also, discover the promise{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}and peril of the Hyperloop {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}and other super high-speed{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}trains of the future. {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}Watch original video shorts,{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}explore in-depth reporting, {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}and dive into interactives.

{\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}Find us at {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}Follow us on Facebook{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}and Twitter. POGUE: {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}On the next episode{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}of "Making Stuff"... LS3, get up! {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}What happens when engineers{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}use Mother Nature's toolbox? What a good boy! {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}Revolutionary robots...

{\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}fabrics made of fish slime... This is like three times the volume of the fish! {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}It's a world of surprising{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}possibilities. We take inspiration from how animals are designed.

{\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}The bold new shape{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}of things to come. It looks like a fish tail. {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}"Making Stuff Wilder,"{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}next time on{\r} NOVA.

{\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}This{\r} NOVA {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}program is{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}available on DVD and Blu-ray.{\r} Major funding for {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}NOVA{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif} is provided by the following... {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}To order, visit,{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}or call 1-800-play-PBS. NOVA {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}is also available{\r} {\i1}{\fs18}{\fnSerif}for download on iTunes. Captioned by <font color="#00ffff"> Media Access Group at WGBH </font> <font color="#00ffff"></font>

2021-08-03 22:12

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