skyTran Bringing Jetsons-Age Transit To The Not-So-Distant Future

Death and taxes, they say, are the only certainties in life. But urban planners might add a few more items to that list. Cities keeping getting more crowded, for example; their streets can only accommodate so much of the increased traffic that invariably follows; and public transit typically proves either insufficient, inconvenient, or too costly to pick up the slack. But one startup is working on a solution that could revolutionize the way we get around town.

skyTran is developing a suspended maglev monorail designed to be fast, flexible, and affordable. IsraelAutoTech caught up with some of the talents behind the initiative at the recent OurCrowd Summit in Jerusalem.

Unlike most mass-transit systems, the skyTran system revolves around individual, two-passenger pods. So using it would not mean waiting for the next bus or train to pull into the station, changing lines, or stopping at each station en route to your destination.

It’s also fully electric, so it would neither add to urban smog nor require a single drop of fossil fuel to operate (depending of course on what’s powering the local grid). The particulars of its development are, by and large, not being disclosed to the public, but IsraelAutoTech has leaned that skyTran is in discussions with Electreon to use its electrified-road technology to power the pods in motion, thereby reducing the size of the batteries they’d need to carry on board.

Individual pods use magnetic levitation to zip around at 100 mph

Aside from the cost of the pods themselves, the infrastructure would also be cheap to manufacture and quick to install. The narrow tracks are designed to be built locally (but off-site) mostly out of aluminum, with relatively small support poles placed in concrete foundations every 50 meters (164 feet). That would make both initial deployment and subsequent expansion easy, cost-effective, and minimally disruptive to urban life, business and, other (existing) forms of traffic.

And it’s fast. The pods are designed to be suspended beneath the track by magnetic levitation. Without friction from contact with anything denser than the air around it, each pod would travel at a constant speed of 100 miles per hour (161 km/h), and only need to stop on an individual basis in the passenger’s requested station – which could be situated above the sidewalk or even inside office buildings.

A single track could handle the traffic of a three-lane highway

Because of the speed and the short spacing in between each pod, a single skyTran track could handle the traffic of a three-lane highway, but take up much less space.

Sounds like something out of The Jetsons, right? Well that show was (fun fact!) supposed to take place in 2062, and that’s just 43 years from now – but hopefully it won’t actually take that long to implement.

The idea was originally envisioned by aerospace engineer and inventor Douglas Malewicki back in 1990. And with the necessary technology finally catching up, it’s been in constant development since 2010.

skyTran is currently testing its system at locations that speak volumes about the buy-in it’s already received. One is situated in the heart of Silicon Valley at NASA’s Ames Reseach Center in Mountain View, California (just across town from Google headquarters). Another is operating on the grounds of (and in partnership with) Israel Aerospace Industries, adjacent to Tel Aviv‘s Ben Gurion International Airport.

skyTran is testing at NASA’s Ames Reseach Center
and at Israel Aerospace Industries

Development is being funded by an array of investors, including WeWork CEO Adam Neumann and OurCrowd, the Israeli venture-capital firm that organized the summit and which has, since 2013, backed dozens of startups – including Argus Cyber Security (to the tune of $30 million) prior to its $430-million acquisition by automotive mega-supplier Continental AG.

It may yet take another few years until skyTran is ready to be deployed, but cities and private companies across Israel and around the world are already lining up, cash in hand, to install the system in their cities, in between them, and on corporate campuses. And as sure as death and taxes, you can bet we’ll be lining up to ride in one once they’re up and running… if not before.

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