The Emergence of Diesel Locomotives in 20th Century America

American Locomotive Company (ALCO)

Valerie Varnuska is a resident of the Westbury, NY, area who takes part in local activities such as watching theatrical performances. Among Valerie Varnuska’s interests is classic locomotives and she is particularly drawn to those with powerful engines needed to climb mountains.

The precursor to the modern diesel locomotive arrived in 1918, at a time when steam-powered locomotives had established a predominance in much of American transportation. The new design came about when American Locomotive Company (ALCO) entered into a partnership with General Electric and Ingersoll-Rand to create a diesel-powered motor car. Designed for a New York City connecting line, this vehicle was the first ever to combine railroad tracks with a diesel electric power.

Within five years, the three partner companies had created an even more advanced motor that ran on diesel and pulled a 60 ton boxcar. By the 1930s, 300 horsepower engines had been surpassed and B&O started to run diesel engines across major North American railroad lines.

The reason for diesel’s popularity had to do with the simplicity of mechanical systems and with fuel efficiencies achieved. By the mid-1930s, B&O was making diesel locomotives for smaller passenger trains that ran with less fuel than traditional steam engines, which were on their way out.


Robobee – A “Robotic Insect” Adept in Hovering and Perching

Robobee pic


Interested in robotics, Westbury, NY, resident Valerie Varnuska finds the diverse ways in which robots move and communicate fascinating. Valerie Varnuska follows robotic competitions and has been amazed at the improvements to the robotic hand over the years. Many of the latest advances are in the area of extremely small robots, including a “robotic insect” called the Robobee.

Developed by the Harvard University Microrobotics Laboratory, the Robobee is the size of a small coin. It is designed to excel at reconnaissance activities such as disaster relief and environmental monitoring. For example, the insect-like drones can potentially carry sensors that will provide response units with real-time alerts when forest fires or floods occur.

A distinct innovation of the Robobee is that it has the ability to perch. This saves significant energy over hovering, which drains the batteries of micro-robots. In response to the considerable challenges of creating a “perching” movement, Harvard scientists have come up with an electrostatically charged “landing patch,” which allows the Robobee to adhere, or be set free to fly, with a simple on-off switch.