Traffic jams? Gone. Air pollution? Almost non-existent. Expensive public transit systems that require constant investment from taxpayers? A thing of the past. At least that’s the future SkyTran chief executive Jerry Sanders is peddling. The optimistic Sanders imagines we’ll zip around cities at a low cost thanks to his two-person pods.
“We had the vision but we needed the technology to catch up. And now the technology has caught up,” said Sanders, whose company has long promised a Jetsons-like transportation network.
Now SkyTran, based in Mountain View, Calif., is building a 250-meter test track in Israel to prove that its technology works. They have shown off prototypes before, but nothing at full size. Sanders says the test track will be ready by the end of the year.
Then in 2016, SkyTran plans to build another test track — covering 400 square meters — also on the campus of Israel Aerospace Industries, which SkyTran is working with on the project. That track will be a loop, and include a station where passengers could get on and off. SkyTran needs to show that its technology — in which magnets help move the levitating pods down the track at speeds of up to 150 mph — really works. (During initial tests on the 250-meter track, Sanders said the pod won’t go over 37 mph.)
“We’re focused on attracting those people who ride in their cars and don’t use public transportation,” Sanders said. “We can offer the commuter privacy because of our vehicle, but also freedom from some arbitrary schedule because it’s on demand.”
He imagines it working much like an elevator. You get in a pod, push a button and go on your way. The pods would stop at stations, where passengers would enter and exit the pods. Sanders says the automated network would require fewer employees than buses or trains. He thinks thousands of people could ride on it at once, provided that a big enough network is built out for the pods.
Sanders said that existing buildings could easily be retrofitted to add stations for passengers to board and exit. Because the pods are about the size of a desk, they could theoretically pass through an existing window. The pods would hang about 18 feet off the ground so as not to interfere with traffic below.
SkyTran expects its system to cost between $7 million and $10 million a mile, but as with all projects, it’s important to take estimates with a grain of salt until the technology has been built out and proven in the real world so that all possible expenses surface.
Sanders said that the system is the best fit for any sprawling city that lacks a subway. Would you want to ride in one of these pods?