TECHNICAL

driver cabs of the future star trek

How will trains’ driver cabs look like in the future?

How will trains’ driver cabs look like in the future? 1274 1018 Spii
driver cabs of the future star trek
A “futuristic” spaceship’s driver cab from Star Trek from the 60′

It’s not easy to answer this kind of question.

Probably future trains’ driver cabs won’t be very different, given the amount of change that they have (or better said, haven’t) endured in the past, as we have seen in this recent article.

They still look the same as 30 years ago, and may be similar decades from now.

A typical “modern” train’s driver cab

But are they the best and most ergonomic version that we could have?

Probably not. The way drivers drive today is just a result of choices made in the past, and improvements to those choices keep updating something without really changing it.

Is what we already have what we deserve?

The good news is that maybe it doesn’t need to be this way in the future, too. If we have the courage to think different, quoting someone who knew how to do so, we may be able to really disrupt the driver cab, which is instead given for granted as it is.

Things could change, if we are able to start from scratch, without moving forward from what we consider to be “correct” just because someone in the past said so.

It could be, if only we had the courage to start from an empty space, and to place a human being at its center. If we only asked what conditions may help him or her to achieve the best performance possible.

Look for what feels natural

But what does “achieve the best performance” mean, when we talk about a train driver? Probably that it should allow him or her to:

  1. easily maintain concentration for a long time; 
  2. use effectively the senses of sight, hearing and touch;
  3. take action quickly and with the lower energy consumption possible.

To achieve that, the driver’s body must be in the most natural position.

And which is that?

 Simple, for us all there are three: lying, seating and standing.

Lying down is the lowest energy consumption position for our bodies, but probably best for resting as it is not ideal to use our senses or to take action.

Standing is perfect to perform quick actions and to use our senses, but the energy consumption is high so it is not optimal for long times.

 The natural winner so is the seated position, with maybe some crucial moments when standing is preferable .

A prototype of the ideal seated position for a driver

Let’s start it over from scratch

So, let’s try together this brainstorming exercise: we have started from a blank space, and placed a human being at the centre. He or she should be seated most of the time, because it is the most natural position to perform the tasks needed, and have a choice of standing, if needed.

Now, how is the most comfortable way to sit ? On a chair, of course! Ideally an armchair, that allows to sit with an adequate back support, the correct inclination of the legs, and arms supported by armrests.

Can you think of a more comfortable seating position than this?

Our imagined driver is now seated on a fantastic chair, comfortable like the ones in a cinema.

He or she has to start using their senses and taking action.

In this position the cone of vision includes what is exactly in front of the driver: it is natural then to place what they must look at exactly there.

So it makes sense to position the windscreen in front of the driver, plus a display (what about a 100” display?) and maybe even a mixed solution with a head-up display.  

The great disruption in the driver cabs

Now, what would the best position for commands and levers be?

Picture our driver seated in the armchair: the arms are on the armrests, resting comfortably on both sides of the body.

Then shouldn’t commands be on both sides as well, where the hands naturally are?

The natural position of hands and the visual cone in the previous prototipe

Well, the picture is starting to look interesting, right?

Our driver by now is seated in an empty space, on a comfortable seat, with windscreen, display and head-up displays straight ahead, and with all the controls beside the body.

Does it look comfortable to you?
Of course it does!

It may seem trivial, but the most natural condition for driving a train is to actually look straight ahead and to have our arms where they would naturally rest.

Commands in modern trains are usually placed in front of the driver

When our past determines our future

Then why are we used to see the commands in front of the driver, instead?

To have levers and controls in front of you may seem normal. Yes, this way commands are visible and easily reachable.

But reachable and comfortable is not the same thing. 

So the traditional way we drive is normal, but not natural: again, it is not the same thing.
And it must be changed.

star trek image of a driver cab
Star Trek had already seen it all

At the end of this very simple and logical analysis, the surprise is that the ideal driver cabin of the future looks incredibly like the bridge that we have seen in Star Trek since 1966!

In other industries it is already a reality: why shouldn’t be the same in railways?

An example of this kind of driver cab from a machine used in the heavy industry
An example of this kind of driver cab from a machine used in the heavy industry

What do you think of this “revolutionary” idea? Let us know in the comments.

See you next time!
Silvio Zuffetti