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SkyTran's Sky Pod MagLev Taxis

SkyTran is a transportation concept that visualizes sky pods that magnetically levitate from their rails for a super-smooth ride. Sound fictional? Well, it still is, but Unimodal Systems has put a lot of thought into it.


(SkyTran Sky Pod concept)

SkyTran employs personal sized vehicles that are streamlined and fully computer-controlled. Like a taxi, you ride as a passenger (not a driver) on one-foot-wide "guideways" built above the ground, so that you are safely separated from ground traffic. Like a freeway, there will be a non-stop, high-speed section of guideway with "exits" and "entrances" that lead to and from off-line SkyTran stations. These off-line stations are essential for non-stop, high-speed travel.

Fewer moving-parts requires less maintenance, computer control is safer and more efficient than a human driver, and light-weight parts reduce the all-around cost of everything. Having personal vehicles available at all times frees users from schedules and allows non-stop travel to their destination - which is faster and more efficient. Vehicles suspended below the track reduces torsion stress around turns - reducing construction cost - and allows for a covered track that never gets rain, snow, or other debris on it - reducing maintenance and increasing safety and efficiency.


(SkyTran megacity)

Here are some of the technical details:

Because vehicles are extremely light, the structure of the guideway itself can be lean and light-weight while still far exceeding strength criteria. Inexpensive standard utility poles like the ones (street lights and traffic signals use) at 30 foot intervals support the guideway. The major benefit of light-weight construction is that the cost of the system is much smaller, allowing more track to be built for a given budget... SkyTran does not need the large swaths of land that rail systems need and no one would ever need to give up their home for SkyTran to be built.

Building SkyTran will be more like installing street or traffic lights than like building a massive freeway or train section. The guideway has fewer fabrication steps than an inner city road and each mile can be erected in 7 days or less. The guideway contains simple wire that interacts with magnets in the moving vehicles to levitate them. This passive maglev cushion gives vehicles a very smooth and efficient ride. Maglev technology does not have parts that touch, increasing the reliability of the system. Increasing reliability further, electromagnetic switches, used for vehicles turning or exiting the guideway, need none of the maintenance that mechanical switches would need. The guideway also has electronics for sensing and propelling the vehicles. The only major moving part in the system is the vehicle. The system's regenerative braking system recaptures the energy of vehicles braking at their destination - increasing efficiency.

Although there a lot of science-fictional forebears for the idea of mass transit systems, I was particularly interested in the ability to just step into a randomly selected pod, type in a destination, and let the system take you there. This excerpt about bubble cars is from Larry Niven's 1976 novel A World Out of Time.

The car seemed to rest on the very tips of the grass blades. It did not shift as Corbell climbed in. Mirelly-Lyra gestured to him to slide over... and climbed in beside him. She bent to the console, hesitated, then punched in numbers. "We go for your pressure suit," said the translator at her belt.

The car moved smoothly away. Mirelly-Lyra half relaxed; she was not steering. Already, Corbell knew that he could not return by car. He didn't know the destination number of the house.

Read a lot more details at SkyTran via Physorg; thanks to Daniel Durvin for the tip on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/13/2009)

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