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You are on page 1of 12

The Brachistochrone

By: Joseph E. Valencia

MATH-308-200

Dr. Sifuentes

Spring 2015

Valencia 2

Introduction

Walt Disney Parks has decided that its time to renovate Space Mountain, one of the

premier attractions in Disneyland and the Walt Disney Worlds Magic Kingdom. This roller

coaster was opened in 1975, and, with the help of NASA astronaut Gordon Cooper, was

designed in order to simulate space flight. However, since 1975, Aerospace technologies have

advanced light-years and Space Mountain has had a number of safety and/or operation-related

incidents which have caused the ride to shut down. Disney Parks has decided that its time to

renovate this attraction in order to reflect the new possibilities of interstellar travel and in order

to preserve the safety and mechanical integrity of this timeless attraction.

Valencia 3

Figure 2: The interior walkway of Space Mountain (photo credit: Disney Parks)

The Disney Imagineers have decided that in the new Space Mountain, they want to

highlight the fact that there is no friction or air resistance in space. Luckily enough, the Texas

A&M Materials Science Department has just invented a new superconductor, the SuperC-X5,

which exists in its superconducting state at a temperature of 23 degrees Celcius. Due to the

feasibility of maintaining this temperature inside the ride, the Imagineers have decided that the

new transports will not be attached to a trackinstead, they will float above a long rod of

current-carrying metal. The current will simply make the transports levitate, it will not affect

their acceleration. In addition, the transports will be sealed and fed with oxygen, allowing the

transports to be placed in a tube from which all air has been removed (so that the tube is a

vacuum). This way, the passengers travelling through the galaxies of Space Mountain will truly

Valencia 4

be able to experience the wonders of interstellar travel without the earthly limitations of friction

and drag.

Figure 3: Current Space Transports in Space Mountain (photo credit: Disney Parks). Notice that these transports are subject to

both friction and air resistance.

The Problem

However, in the process of planning the details of the new attraction, the Imagineers have

hit a road block: after the initial liftoff, what path of travel should they begin the initial drop

with in order to give the new astronauts the most thrilling experience? Befuddled by this

question, the Imagineers once again turned to Texas A&M, and presented the Department of

Mathematics with their predicament. The department, after examining the situation, decided that

this was a Brachistochrone problem. After further examining the spacial constraints of Space

Mountains existing outer shell, the professors and the Mathematics department agreed upon 6

possible pathways (spread across 2 regions of space) to get from point A to point B. The first

region was 100 meters in the direction perpendicular to Earths gravity and 200 meters in the

direction to earths gravity and the second was 100 meters in each respective direction. The

pathways that could be taken to travel through each of these regions were a straight line, a

circular arc, or a cycloid. This is illustrated in the figures below, where the line is the top

pathway, the cycloid is the middle pathway, and the circular arc is the bottom pathway:

Valencia 5

Figure 4: Scenarios 1 and 2 (Photo Credit: Dr. Sifuentes, Texas A&M University)

Thus, from these scenarios, it was possible to model p, the motion of the transport, in

vertical and horizontal components as functions of , the angle that the transport makes with the

origin, and t, the time after the transport was released at point A. Thus, p((t)) could be modeled

by the following equations for the following pathways and scenarios:

1)

The Line (The origin is at point A and Rl is 100 meters. The limitations of are also

listed):

2)

The Circle (The origin is at the center of each circular arc, Rc is the radius of the circle,

and phic is the maximum angle. The limitations of are also listed):

3)

The Cycloid (The origin is at point A, Ry is the radius in polar coordinates, and phiy is the

maximum angle. The limitations of are also listed):

The Linear and Circular pathways satisfy the following differential equation (note that g=9.8

m/s2 because the travelers are really still on earth, and that the dot between Fg and dp/d denotes

the dot product of these two vectors):

Valencia 6

The Line has the following initial conditions for the above differential equation (in both cases):

The Circle has the following initial conditions for the above differential equation (in both cases):

(t) satisfies the following differential equation for the cycloidal pathway with the following

initial conditions (note that p2 refers to the second row of the parameterization of p):

Thus, the process that the Department of Mathematics used in order to find the fastest path from

point A to point B for the Disney Imagineers was to use these equations to find the amount of

time it took to travel these pathways.

In order to find the amount of time that it took for the transport to get from point A to

point B via a linear path, the differential equation had to be solved for t with the maximum value

of , 1, input for the (t) parameter. Thus, for scenario 1, the first step was to find (dp)/(d), and

then plug this, along with the other necessary variables into the equation, and then solve the

differential equation by separation of variables.

Rl

= [

]

2Rl

Thus, the differential equation for scenario 1 of the line simplifies to the following:

2

2

=

2 ( 2 + 4)

2

() = (2 +4)

and

= (

2 +4

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Thus, plugging in 1 for , it can be concluded that it takes 11.9 seconds for the transport to

fall to the end of the ramp.

Scenario 2 for the line is very similar in nature, however, the end equation ends up

slightly different because dp/d is different (due to the differences in the horizontal and vertical

distances). However, the approach for solving the differential equation is exactly the same as it

was for the line in scenario1.

Rl

= [

]

2Rl

Thus, the differential equation for scenario 1 of the line simplifies to the following:

2

=

2 2

() =

2

4

and

= 2( )

Thus, plugging in 1 for , it can be concluded that it takes 6.39 seconds for the transport to

fall to the end of the ramp.

For scenario 1 of the circle, the first thing to do is determine the radius, Rc. Because of

the parameterization, it is known that initially, Rc points entirely in the negative horizontal

direction (because sin() is 0), so we know that the origin of the circle lies somewhere along the

length of the 100 horizontal line. Thus, Rc plus some unkown value to the right of the radius (in

the cture for scenario 1), x, is equal to 100.

+ = 100

In addition to this, it is known that when the transport has completed the circular path, the

horizontal and vertical position can be described by the following 2 equations:

cos( ) = x

sin( ) = 200

Thus, the above three equations for Rc, y, and x constitute a system of nonlinear equations. The

solution was approximated in MATLAB using the solve function (see BrachistocrhoneCircle.m

and circle_the_movie.m), and the following results were obtained:

50( 2 + 4)

=

= 1.6391

50( 2 4)

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Since all necessary variables have been found in order to solve the differential equation (and

evaluate it in order to find the amount of time it takes for the transport to travel the length of the

circle), it was possible to proceed with the selected problem solving strategy. Thus, it was

necessary to find dp/d:

sin((t))

= [

]

cos((t))

2

= cos(())

2

This differential equation is not separable, and nor is it linear, so the solution to this differential

equation must be approximated. This too, was accomplished in MATLAB, however, this time,

ode45, a function that solves and approximates nonstiff differential equations, was used in order

to approximate the solution (see see BrachistocrhoneCircle.m and circle_the_movie.m). Per the

results of this approximation, the time taken in for the transport to travel from point A to point B

in scenario 1 was calculated to be 10.2061 s.

For the second scenario, calculating the required variables, Rc and , was much easier,

because by simply looking at the it can be determined by the fact that the initial horizontal and

final vertical positions are equal, so the radius must be 100 meters. In addition, because the

initial value of is , and the transport moves only a quarter circle, it can be easily concluded

that is

3

2

. Because the parameterization is the same for the circles in both scenarios,

is the

same for both scenarios (because Rl is expressed in these equations as a variable, and can be

adapted by the circle used). Thus, the differential equation for this circle is the exact same as it

was for the circle in scenario 1:

2

cos(())

2

Ergo, MATLABs ode45 function was also used to approximate the time it took for the transport

in this scenario; and, per the results of the function, the time it took for the transport to travel

from point A to point B in the second scenario was approximated at 6.1015 s.

For the cycloidal pathway in the first scenario, the first step was to find the required

variables for solving the differential equation, Ry and . Evaluating p()) at 0 and at (one half

revolution) reveals that the p is a scaling of Ry in horizontal and vertical directions (respectably),

and thus, it can be concluded that is . Using these same two evaluations, it can be concluded

that Ry is 100 meters for scenario 1. Now, the differential equation can be solved. However,

before it is solved, note that p is similar to p for the circle in that the radius is only a numeric

scaling of the position. Ergo, it can be concluded that like the differential equation for the circle,

the differential equation for the cycloid will also be the same for both scenarios. First

be found. This can be done by using the chain rule.

needs to

Valencia 9

=

d

d

(1)

(

)

(

)(cos((t))

1 cos((t))

dt

dt

= [

] =

[

]

d

sin((t))

0 ( )(sin((t))

dt

This was then plugged into the differential equation, and then simplified. The final differential

equation took the form of:

By separation of variables and by integration, the final equation took the form of:

() =

=

Thus, it was concluded that it took 10.0354 s for the transport to travel from point A to point B in

scenario 1.

For the second scenario of the cycloidal pathway, the first step was to find the required

variables for solving the differential equation, Ry and . It was not as straightforward finding

these variables as it was in the first scenario, however, the following nonlinear system of

equations could be constructed in order to approximate Ry and :

( sin ( )) = 100

( cos ( ) 1) = 100

This too, was entered into MATLABs solve function (see BrachistochroneCycloid.m), and the

resulting approximation was Ry = 57.2917 meters and = 2.4120 radians. Thus, using the

same resulting equation as derived before, but plugging in for and 57.2917 for Ry, it

was determined that it took 5.9319 s for the transport to travel from point A to point B in the

second scenario.

Valencia 10

Looking at the time it took for each candidate to travel the required distance in each

scenario, it can be concluded that the cycloidal path is the fastest way to get from point A to

point B in both scenarios, the circular arc is the second fastest way to travel between these two

points, and the line is the slowest way to travel between these two points. Thus, the Department

of Mathematics at Texas A&M should recommend that the cycloidal path be used for the initial

drop on the renovated Space Mountain roller coaster, regardless of the scenario, because this will

give the riders the best possible experience by allowing them to soar through space as fast as

possible, with no forces acting on them but the gravitational pull of the earth. Movies of the

transports (modeled by a ball, since there is no friction or air resistance) have been created and

attached to this project. Please execute the attached code in line_the_movie.m,

circle_the_movie.m, and cycloid_the_demonstration.m in order to watch these demonstrations.

This conclusion, Space Mountain, and the movie demonstrations may be straightforward,

however, there is one thing about this project that isntthe cycloid. What exactly is a cycloid?

If one were to poll random people off the street and ask them this question, one would likely get

a number of answers ranging from a shape with a lot of loops to something that professional

cyclists use to train. Simply put, a cycloid is the shape formed by a colored spot on a hula-hoop

in the air as it is rolled across the ground in a single revolution. The cture below illustrates this

as the red dot is pressed against a ceiling, then rolled through a single revolution:

Figure 5: Cycloid Pressed Against a Ceiling (Photo Credit: Dr. Sifuentes, Texas A&M University)

In order to explain the parameterization for the cycloid (as listed earlier), lets take a look

at a circle rolling through space:

Valencia 11

Figure 6: Parametric Equations for a Cycloid (photo credit Gayle Gilbert & Greg Schmidt, The University of Georgia)

First, notice that in the diagram || = = by the definition of arc length. Next, note

that the center of the Circle, C, can be represented in Cartesian coordinates as = (, ). If we

put P, the point that draws the path of this particular cycloid, in Cartesian coordinates, we get

that = || || = () = ( sin()) and = || || =

() = (1 cos()). When the cycloid is flipped upside down (pressed against the ceiling)

like we have in the scenarios 1 and 2, note that the subtraction of || || gets flipped to

|| ||, which results in the y-coordinate being parameterized by = (cos() 1). Thus,

p can be parameterized for the cycloid as listed on the first page.

Finally, how should you, the reader, know that you can trust these analyses presented

here? Well, the Mathematical geniuses of the cycloidthe Bernoulli bros., Leibniz, von

Tschirnhuas, and lHotal, all demonstrated that the cycloid satisfies the following differential

equation, where () is the slope of () (I will prove it also):

() =

1 ()

sin()

=

2 ()

1 cos()

2

sin()

(1 + (

) ) = 2

1 cos()

= 2

Valencia 12

) |cos() 1| = 2

(1 cos())2

(

cos() + 1

) 2|cos() 1| = 2

(1 cos())2

2 = 2 ***note that the |cos() 1| cancels the other 1 cos() in the denominator because

its the magnitude.

References

Space Mountain. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2015, from

https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/magic-kingdom/space-mountain/

Disneyland's Space Mountain shut down for safety review. (2013, April 14). Retrieved May 1,

2015, from http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/unitedstates/130414/disneylands-space-mountain-shut-down-safety-revi

IFW-Dresden Superconducting Maglev Train Models. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2015, from

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeS_U9qFg7Y

Documentation. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2015, from

http://www.mathworks.com/help/matlab/ref/ode45.html?searchHighlight=ode45

Gilbert, G., & Schmidt, G. (n.d.). Parametric Equations for a Cycloid. Retrieved May 1, 2015,

from http://jwilson.coe.uga.edu/EMAT6680Fa07/Gilbert/Assignment 10/Gayle&Greg-10.htm

Sifuentes, J. (n.d.). Brachistochrone. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from

http://www.math.tamu.edu/~josefs/math308/honors/brachistochrone.pdf

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