Have you ever been in a cab, stuck in traffic and thought, "Ugh! I could WALK faster than this!!!" Well, get ready to taxi and chill, because a company called SkyTran is taking cars-for-hire off the road and into the sky. The aerial mass transit system that uses cars that glide on an elevated magnetic track 20-30 feet over the ground is slated to unveil the first IRL test of its system during a demo run in Israel in early 2016.
The computer-controlled system uses 2-person pods that move passengers above surface traffic in a low-impact fashion that the company promises is "fast, safe, green and economical." The years-in-the-making project was developed at NASA's Ames Research Center and, if it all works out, will zip users along at speeds up to 150 m.p.h. to their individual destination, with the computerized hub determining the fastest, most efficient route. Best of all? There will be no in-between stops or back-ups waiting for other passengers to load up or off cars.
"SkyTran is in effect a private vehicle — it is your own limo service — and therefore commuters will love it," SkyTran chairman and CEO Jerry Sanders told Fast Company. "Even in the stations, this smart routing continues. If the folks getting out of the car in front take forever to unload their luggage, your own pod can skip past them on a separate rail." Imagine, Sanders says on the company's site "getting from San Francisco to San Jose in 15 minutes," or "JFK to Midtown Manhattan in five minutes" during rush hour.
One of the biggest upsides is that fact that you don't have to schedule a pod in advance, but just hop into the first one that appears and even order up a freight car that will transport all your gear or shopping bags. And, the company says, the system is low cost because the modular design makes it easy to set it up quickly for much less than the cost laying down a new highway or train track. According to Sanders, subway systems can cost anywhere from $100 million to $2 billion per kilometer, with SkyTran is expected to cost around $8 million per kilometer, with each car running between $25,000-$30,000 a piece.
"Its very practical and most suited for a large urban environment because its footprint is very small—a mere 18-inch light pole — and it can enter and exit virtually all existing buildings," said Sanders. Tracks are actually set up so they can run through buildings, with stations set up inside structures right next to the elevator banks. The system also has built-in safety features, so uses can be identified by their smart phones, thumbprints or chip-encoded cards in an effort to avoid any potential terror attacks or sabotage.
By using Maglev propulsion, SkyTran emits "virtually no pollution" and, according to the company, "the power used in two hairdryers can fly you at over 62 m.p.h.," with most of the power needed to run the system obtainable from clean sources like solar energy. Combine that with the number of fossil-fuel belching cars it could replace and the easing of on-street traffic and SkyTran could be the green machine our clogged highways and city streets are begging for.
When it deploys next year, SkyTran is expected to run on a 900-foot loop on the campus of Israel Aerospace Industries, which is partnering with SkyTran to develop the cars. If the initial test proves successful, the company wants to expand to at least three other cities in Israel and some U.S. cities by 2018.