QCOSTARICA – The lack of a proper infrastructure and the large number of vehicles on our roads are the leading cause of massive traffic congestion and craziness lived through daily, in particular in the San Jose greater metropolitan area.

But building more and bigger roads only attracts even more vehicles. The answer, however, may be overhead.

Skytran, a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system first proposed by inventor Douglas Malewicki in 1990, and under development by Unimodal Inc, may be the solution for Costa Rica.


Building traditional urban roads and railways is expensive and requires available land. One way around that is to go underground, with subway systems serving populations well in cities throughout the world — but at great cost.

“The next big innovation is going to be in automated transit,” says John Cole, SkyTran CTO and director. “Transportation will just recede into the background of lives, as something that just happens automatically. I think about where I want to go, tell a computer where I want to go and it just takes me there — seamlessly.”

SkyTran would do away with train schedules and central stations to develop a grid system above the ground with multiple “off ramps” acting as stations where users can board pre-booked pods — a cab service for the skies.

Call for SkyTran on your smart phone and a computer-controlled, magnetically levitating pod arrives. It will whisk you across the city to your destination.

SkyTran says the technology uses only a third of the electricity used by one of today’s hybrid cars because its vehicles weigh just 300 pounds.

Lightweight two-passenger vehicles suspended from elevated passive magnetic levitation tracks are expected to achieve the equivalent of over 1.2 L/100 km (200 miles per US gallon) fuel economy at 160 km/h or faster.

The first pilot project will be at the campus of Israel Aerospace Industries, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. The 400-meter demonstration system is planned for completion by late 2015, with the hope of getting the certification needed to build 20 kilometers of track in Tel Aviv for public use within three years. And there are hopes to expand into cities across Europe and Asia.

“We can build on sidewalks, buildings, anywhere really and create a whole host of stations for people to choose from” says Skytran CEO Jerry Sanders, who adds that his system can be built for $10 million per mile. But is going up really the way forward?

To minimize maintenance and make switching on and off the tracks efficient at high speeds, early versions of the system proposed using the Inductrack passive magnetic levitation system instead of wheels. Passive maglev requires no external power to levitate vehicles. Rather, the magnetic repulsion is produced by the movement of the vehicle over shorted wire coils in the track.

skyTran Animated Infographic from The Collaborative on Vimeo.

Malewicki conceived the basic idea of SkyTran idea in 1990, filing a US patent application that year that was granted as US Patent #5108052 in 1992. He published several technical papers on SkyTran in the following years. In 1991, he presented a paper entitled “People Pods – Miniature Magnetic Levitation Vehicles for Personal Non-Stop Transportation” to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Future Transportation Conference in Portland, Oregon.

Introduction to skyTran from The Collaborative on Vimeo.

The 2008 energy shortages stimulated renewed interest in Green vehicle proposals such as SkyTran. The cover of Popular Science Magazine’s June, 2008 special issue on “The Future of the Environment” featured a SkyTran-like vehicle prominently in its future “Green Mega-City”.

Sources: CNN, Vimeo, Wikipedia

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