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A $4.8M model airport with computer controlled vehicles (news.com.au)
214 points by mmcconnell1618 on May 5, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments

"Man builds" is not quite correct. The airport is part of the largest model railway in the world [1]. The thing is build by a rather large team with ten years worth of experience in building high-end models.

If you ever come to northern Germany, I absolutely recommend a visit!

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miniatur_Wunderland

Also check there Youtube channel. Here a nice movie explaining the takeoff/landing system: http://www.youtube.com/user/MiWuLaTV#p/a/5F525544A3296EEB/0/... (in German)

edit Wow, I did not realize the airplanes are not connected to the system. They can all run "free".

Well... It was certainly built by man ;-)


I might be in the minority, but I don't think that's a good reason to be misleading.

It was an honest mistake. I did not realize that a team was involved in the building. I've seen stories about single guys building a yacht out of popsicle sticks, etc. and thought from the article that this was a single maker too. Sorry if the headline was misleading.

Well, that sort of thing is why the guidelines here say to just copy the title of the page you are linking to unless absolutely neccessary.

I'm thinking that the original title did include "Man Builds..." The URL still does...


For what it's worth, I was referring to the attempt at a justification by the guy I was replying to. I thought I'd point that out for the record now that his comment has been deleted.

I didn't think you were being misleading.

I think the downvotes (not from me - once a comment goes grey I tend to think the job is done for all but the most abusive comments) relate to the "I submitted this story and got no love" element (or maybe the smiley face).

We've all been there, and it adds nothing of value to the actual article or conversation to know it's a dupe, unless the previous one had a worthwhile discussion as well, in which case link to it.

Each passenger is only allowed to carry liquids in containers no larger than 100 picolitres.

+5 Funny

Slashdot haters burn my karma.

Correction: not built by a single man at all. Built by a team of ~200, as a single part of a 20-year project. Here are the facts:


Labour, as you point out, but also materials and tools, none of which I'd expect comes particularly cheap in the quality needed for that level of detail.

Very interesting. There are more videos/details of it here:

http://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/exhibit/video/section/air... and http://www.youtube.com/user/MiWuLaTV

Their YouTube channel has a lot of videos called "Gerrit's Diary" (the main guy building it), and he goes into some detail about the different parts as they are building it (it is in German, with English subtitles). I haven't found anything specifically about the programming, but I would love to know some more about what went into that.

I have just browsed through the blog of the project manager at http://tagebuch.miniatur-wunderland.de (it's in German). Until now the only thing I could find regarding the programming are the following numbers[1]:

The control software has 145.000 lines of code[I guess for the whole model, not just the airport]

Just the airport control software has 70,000 lines of code.

He has added 200,000 numbers just for the configuration.

[1] http://tagebuch.miniatur-wunderland.de/eintrag/aus-dem-leben... (German)

http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=de&sl=de&tl... (English with Google translate)

When I remember correctly Gerrit mentioned that his homebrewn code is mostly written in VisualBasic. As far as I know, he studied business informatics.

However, they are also using other software like http://www.railware.com. I visited the Miniaturwunderland this year and it was quite fun to watch the operator team writing down RailWare bugs into their own excel sheets.

The Miniaturwunderland model railroad is definitely worth a visit for every programmer! Then you can imagine how difficult it is to change things in large complex systems without breaking something.

No, it's Delphi (of course).

Link: http://www.miniatur-wunderland.de/anlage/video/miwula-tv/fil... (1:50 h, german)

Thanks for the info. Watching through the Gerrit's Diary videos is fun. The amount of detail they put into this is astonishing.

This is so very German.

Can anyone tell how the take-off/landing is handled? It appears that the planes ride on little support struts, but do the struts auto engage/disengage once landing is complete/about to begin? Most of the taxiing appears to be done sans-struts. Also curious what happens to the planes onces they take off...

The youtube video above explains that (again in German). The start/landing system with two 'poles' was designed over a long time to allow realistic angles of the plane (i.e. nose up during descend/landing).

Are those things disconnected later? I'm pretty sure, yes. The actual mechanism wasn't shown in the videos I've seen, but I expect those planes to be able to taxi to the runways, connect and lift off.

After take off the planes are brought behind the scenery in a special area that allows to store/move/hide the planes. The video even says that it should be possible to change the direction of the start/landing.

As an autonomous vehicle enthusiast I was bewildered by the "carsystem" with no other explanation.

Their website explains that they use an expanded version of the "Faller-Car-System". After doing a little research I found that a magnet attached to the front tires follows a metal wire embedded in the roadway similar to the way a smart road works.

In one system I found, a magnetic reed switch is used to stop (and start) vehicles when they pass over electromagnets. Electromagnets in the road are also used to divert the steering when a choice between 2 wires to follow is available.

Miniatur Wunderland has expanded on this system considerably with a central computer communicating with an on-board controller in each vehicle to control speed, lights, and sounds. I couldn't find any information about if or how the cars determine or communicate their true position. My guess is that they estimate based on the speed and movement commands they send.

They do have a couple of systems for computer controlling boats that they are working on that uses ultrasonic or infared signals to determine boat position to under 1mm.

It's quite interesting to me that they have been able to make cars and boats act and be controlled more like trains.

The funny thing is that, while my first reaction was "that's really cool", my immediate next thought was that it would have been much cooler using augmented reality instead of figurines and models. I wonder how much longer there is going to be demand for physical proofs of concept like these.

Really cool!

But I don't "get" projects like this. Why spend seven years and $4.8m? Are there really that many people willing to pay to see this that they can recoup the investment? Are there any other side benefits? (i.e. finding logistical deficiencies in the airline industry)

Oh what I could do with $4.8m and seven years...

There are enough people who are willing to stand in a queue for two hours to see it: http://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/visit/waiting-time/histor...

(And for those who like it recursive: they have a model of the model railroad as part of the model railroad http://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/fileadmin/media/foto-gale... complete with the queue http://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/fileadmin/media/foto-gale... )

Wow, crazy. The wunderland site was down when I tried to get more info. Thanks for the link.

Why can't you just do it because it's awesome?

I can think of a lot worse things that people spend millions of dollars on (hookers and blow, yachts, Color, etc).

When I get my $100 million exit, you can be damn sure I'm spending part of that on building working mech armor and making video games.

Hookers and blow are worse than miniatures?

If you watch the video you'll see that the elsewhere in the model there is even a red light district.

> Color

I still don't get that one:-\ I mean, I guess I don't see the value:-\

I was saying that kind of tongue-in-cheek, I think based on the team they've got they'll probably be able to make something cool.

"I spent $59M of my exit on hookers and blow, and then wasted the rest."

I'm not saying their team is incapable, I just don't get specifically why they got as much as they did at this point in the game, that's all.

I see it as basically a one-group incubator that already had a decent product prototype.

I wish i wasn't getting downvoted to oblivion:(

I'm honestly curious what colour brought to the table. Last I checked their app wasn't all that great and their idea, while novel, wasn't groundbreaking and I'm not aware of how they could try to monetize it beyond ads. That last part could just be lack of imagination on my part.

It's a commercial project, so yes, people are willing to pay to see it. They had more than a million visitors in 2009 [1].

[1] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miniatur_Wunderland (German language link)

Watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN_oDdGmKyA&feature=playe....

The whole thing is just amazing. Checkout 3:30 in, the computer control station is just rad.

Can the planes that 'fly' in to land can detach from the support rod and taxi through the airport? Hard to tell from the video...

It seems that way, especially since the alternative would just be a ton of touch-and-go landings.

Yep, they use magnets on the airplaines. The planes are powered by batteries and guided by other magnets (watch the nose wheel with his little skid). They even have some elevators behind the scene to sort and distribute the planes.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I have become unable to stop the plane while on the ground. What I'm going to have everybody do is form a queue at the emergency exits, and as I go down the tarmac two or three of you jump into the gateā€¦"

That's pretty cool!

Miniature company with team of ~200 builds airport model... how is this hacker news related?

The hacker movement grew out of the MIT model railroad club, so model railroads are by definition on topic :-)

http://ycombinator.com/newswelcome.html : ("A crap link is one that's only superficially interesting. Stories on HN don't have to be about hacking, because good hackers aren't only interested in hacking, but they do have to be deeply interesting.")

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