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skyTran - Personal Rapid Transit

Submitted By: 

Shalem Pravas


There are many projects which involve revolutionizing the public transport sector in the world like the Hyperlooop, driverless automobiles, passenger carrying drones, etc. Among all the methods of transport that the future holds, the one which is right around the corner to be implemented is the skyTran researched and developed by NASA and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). It is as costly as taking a bus ticket, is extremely fast, energy efficient, elevated and the most important, eco-friendly.TheskyTran consists of automated capsules which are magnetically levitated on elevated rails, accelerated through electric and magnetic fields. It’s so close off into being introduced to the public that the first working demonstration model is scheduled to be constructed by the end of 2016 in Tel Aviv, Israel. In this article we will look into the working, economics and features of this next generation transport system,the skyTranwhich might be our transition into a future of clean, green and superfast means of transportation.


 Figure 1.Capsule interior sketch


The skyTran transportation system would allow passengers to zip past crowded roads in towns at speeds of 50 to 100 mph and in outskirts at up to 150 mph in space precision streamlined capsules which would be readily available to any passenger who would just have to step into the vehicle and key or voice in the destination where they want to go. These capsule would not even have the problem of being crowded as each one would allow for two commuters. A dynamic queuing system of the capsules will see that passengers will have the right of way at all times while having a capsule readily available “on-demand” in a separate line therefore not disturbing the transit line. All of this combined with the best part, it is all automated ruling out the major reason for most accidents, human error.

The capsules will use the maglev (magnetic levitation) technology to eliminate the huge friction loss factor involved with high velocities and therefore solving it by eliminating any form of surface contact. Along with the reduced friction losses, the generation of a magnetic and electric field can be done through the means of green electricity without the requirement of any fuel source to run it eliminating the primary concern bothering the planet in this time, pollution. The magnetic levitation uses the principle of magnetic attraction or repulsion and therefore defying gravity by making it float on air. A repulsive magnetic lift is caused when repelling magnetic fields are placed to avoid surface contact between the couplings by pushing it away from itself. Whereas an attractive lift acts by the guide rail lifting the car towards itself and located on top of the car. 


Figure 2 ID smartcard to gain entry into the capsule

The construction of the skyTran is such that it doesn’t hinder any other independent modes of transport since they can be supported by poles in the pedestrian pavements. It does not cross in with any roads or tracks or any other lines of capsules. The main line will contain strategic exits which will take the passengers to the location where they want to go without having to make any stops also because it is a minimalistic personalized transport capsule. The routing system of the transit cars is so efficient that it reduces stoppage time to almost null, for example, if a passenger in front of your capsule takes a long time to offload, your capsule can skip to a parallel track. The Tel Aviv demonstration strip only consists of 4 stations but the routing system gets more efficient as the routing gets more complex.

Therefore this leads to an uninterrupted service from origin to destination saving time in this busy world



Figure 3 TheskyTran zipping through the city




Figure 4.skyTran overall system concept

Coming to an economic point of view, the skyTran ticks a lot of boxes where a lot of future concepts don’t particularly meet the brief given the conditions of the current technological arsenal and global economy. It pays attention to optimizing minor details so as to minimize installation and running costs to the greatest extent.

The setup costs are minimal when compared to some of its alternatives. For example, if we compare it to the underground subway system using a similar maglev system, the construction would cost anywhere from US$100 million to US$2 Billion per kilometer, whereas the overhead setup of the skyTran system is estimated to cost around US$8 million per kilometer. Apart from these costs, each skyTran car would price between US$25,000 to US$30,000. Also, the skyTran project saves a large amount of money since it does not involve the purchase of prime city real estate to build rails or stations but just the area of an 18 inch diameter pole.The maglev propulsion system runs on pure electricity giving it an equivalent fuel run system efficiency of 200 miles per gallon.Since it also has no moving parts, there is a lower frequency of maintenance checks required. Along with these benefits the rails can offer support to existing telecom cables and power lines which will offer housing from weather as well as provide a cleaner look to the streets of the city. Due to all these reduced numbers, the ticket cost for taking a ride would essentially cost as much as a bus ride.

Safety and Maintainance



Security is an important consideration which the company had taken while designing the skyTran since it is a public transportation system which is basically open to a large mass of the population. First of all, the passenger carrying capacity is at 2 per capsule which reduces the risk of a terrorist attack since it is basically a personalized public transport. Also, a passenger who enters into the capsule is required to submit a form of identification in form of fingerprint, smartcard, smartphone etc. for the onboard computers to grant admission into the capsule. In case of a natural disaster, there is a lower chance of people getting affected as they are not grouped together (stampedes cause a major number of deaths in crowded places during natural disasters).The capsules have emergency protocols built in to tackle emergency situations, like crisis avoidance or immediate stoppage functions. In the case of a power outage in the line, the capsules have enough reserve energy which can provide enough backup to power the capsule to the nearest station. The rails can be repaired easily in case of anydamages without interrupting regular service thanks to the easily replaceable components which can quickly be substituted in the setup and get it back into running in a short time.

Figure 5 ID smartcard to gain entry into the capsule



The skyTran is actually really flawless on paper. All that remains is for the Tel Aviv demonstration track to be tested out to bring out any real time problems if they exist. It has a light infrastructure with a really minimalistic type of construction with its thin poles and lightweight aluminum components leaving behind a tiny footprint which hardly takes up any space on the ground. Along with that it can setup lines through buildings by making caves into them while at the same time assigning a stop at the building. It is really a flexible technology with pretty much no boundaries stopping it. It can also make a locale look neater and more organized (and obviously futuristic) by allowing the power lines and telecommunication cables to run through the rails.The pollution aspect is also a crucial point which the company takes into consideration by utilizing the maglev propulsion. In this critical junction of the human race, we have already threatened ourselves by exposing the planet’s ecosystem to its natural limit of pollution. So, these days the more important technical feature which needs to be paid attention to is its ability to run on green energy rather than the power which skyTran succeeds in achieving. Since it completely runs on green energy, it virtually leaves no trace of pollutants. The efficiency is so high that the energy required to power two hairdryers can run the capsules at 62mph. If that isn’t good enough, then what is?



Figure 6 the smarter choice?