My friend Greg Moran, who knows a thing or two about infrastructure, sent me this fascinating link to SkyTran. The developers of SkyTran describe the product thus:
SkyTran is the Auto 2.0 or Auto2 – not just auto-mobile but auto-matic. This new-generation vehicle holds two passengers and weighs just 200 pounds empty. It moves on lightweight “guideways” one-foot wide and 20-30 feet above the ground, riding on magnetic levitation (“maglev”) coils inside the guideway instead of wheels. Because vehicles floating on a magnetic field can switch on and off the guideway easily, there will be stations every few blocks – or several per block in busy areas – little platforms 10′ above the sidewalk or attached to the side of buildings.
GreenTech Media provides a great illustration of what such a system might look like as well:
For a mental picture, think of a magnetic levitation (maglev) trains cross-bred with that thing that shuffles around shirts in a dry cleaner.
The first lines would be along heavy-duty transportation corridors, i.e., delivering passengers from central downtown stations to the airport, or inside the redesigned city of the future. Over time, the lines could be extended to individual homes with parallel tracks for exits. The cable required to propel the vehicle and hold them in the air is only about 18 inches wide and two feet wide, said John Cole, Unimodal’s COO.
“You could install it on standard utility poles. It would require the same gauge [of pole] that would hold up a traffic light,” he said.
I have to admit when I was first shown this link, I was skeptical. However, I began think of it as similar to the pod system I have proposed on this website. As long as SkyTran is used largely to replace commuter car traffic and not replace mass transportation systems like subways, I think it could be effective. A few of the benefits the SkyTran team suggests include:
- 200 mile per gallon efficiency
- Nearly silent vehicles on tiny elevated guideways don’t disrupt neighborhoods
- Proposed 100 mph speed
If such a system is as affordable as the designers say it is, it would be a potential boon to cities as roads would not have to be dug and tunnels would not have to be bored. Rather, creating lines above street level may be a relatively easy infrastructure fix. Imagine if on multi-lane streets a lane of traffic could be gotten rid of and we had parks instead, in the streets?
It does not seem that SkyTran is proposing to replace mass transit, which is good, because their system seems inefficient for boarding many passengers at once, as a train can. What is positive, is that if these lines are cheap to produce they could be linked out much further than heavy rail lines for commuters currently are. I do wonder though if it would not be better to have larger vehicles for heavily trafficked areas like airports though, just for efficiency’s sake.
I think this system would be ideal for cities that currently have large numbers of people commuting by car and not much in way of public transportation infrastructure, such as Albuquerque or Houston. I will need more information to think highly of it as an intraurban solution.