SkyTran pods use Maglev technology and offer a convenient alternative to conventional transport systems in crowded areas.
The need to ease road traffic and make city transport more sustainable is being felt around the globe; numerous solutions are being developed and implemented. Ranging from car- and bike-sharing systems to electric vehicles and revamping public transport systems, a concept of particular interest is being developed by the NASA Space Act company – skyTran.
The peculiarity of skyTran’s project lies in its innovative approach of building a network of two-person pods attached under a magnetic levitation track that enables them to float without making contact with it. The technology of magnetic levitation technology (also known as Maglev) is already used in countries such as China and Japan, mainly to connect airports with cities. Japan is also building the first high speed Maglev train connecting the cities of Tokyo and Nagoya and moving at a speed of about 500mph.
SkyTran’s vehicles should reach 240kmph and are meant to offer a convenient alternative to conventional transport systems in crowded areas. The main visible advantage is that the pods float above the ground, thus avoiding road traffic. Underground lines or tram lines moving on tracks separated from the road are commonplace in several cities, but skyTran’s pods are intended for not more than two persons and what makes them particular is that they do not move along fixed lines, but can move all along the transport network once it is established and enlarged. Such a network can be expanded on an urban, regional and national level. The vehicles are computer-controlled and can be ordered by commuters through an app when and where they desire to transport them to a destination of their choice, a sort of Maglev taxi.
Among the other advantages offered by skyTran is the low environmental impact in terms of energy consumption, due to the use of solar power as an energy source and low manufacturing costs derived by the use of aluminum components. Furthermore, the network can be built along existing communication lines, thus avoiding costly land purchases or disturbance to densely inhabited urban areas. The two-person pod is considered also to be very safe since it avoids incidents involving vehicles filled with large numbers of commuters.
The system planned to be built in Israel by skyTran and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is meant to serve as a pilot project and consists initially of 400-500 meter elevated loop test track on IAI’s campus in central Israel is expected to be completed by end of 2015 and if successful, to be followed by the establishment of a commercial network in Tel Aviv, however the nearby municipality of Herzliya has announced its collaboration with skyTran to be the first city to have the transport system implemented; the route should go from the city’s train station to the marina.
Besides Israel, other countries have shown interest in the project. Among these figure India and France, with plans to introduce a skyTran network in the cities of Strasbourg and Toulouse, although with the pilot project still under development it is early to talk about a successful diffusion of this system. If skyTran proves to be effective, it can indeed represent a truly innovative way to reduce road traffic and make commuters more comfortable, without forgetting the environmental benefits presented by a decrease of use of cars and other polluting vehicles.
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Writer: Edoardo de Silva is a junior consultant at Trasporti e Territorio (TRT) in Milano.