The ‘Find out Friday’ interview
What is the Skytran and what is its aim?
SkyTran is an elevated, low cost, energy efficient transportation system and that can move people from point to point very, very quickly in the comfort of a private vehicle even though it’s public transportation. There will no stopping in traffic or surface obstacles at any one station except your station. It’s truly a revolution in how transportation works.
When and how did the project begin?
It began over a decade ago. It was the brainchild of a Stanford engineer who worked for NASA on the Apollo programme. Doug Malewicki is the founder who left NASA and started to develop SkyTran and believed public transport had to change. People are herded like cattle without any regard for comfort. He wanted to be able to create a system that commuters wanted to use that was also profitable, which was an oxymoron. So SkyTran brings a new important message to public transportation. Profitability allows the provider to maintain a system that people want to use. Our costs are so low it doesn’t need to be run or subsidised by the state or city. It can be privately financed.
How does the whole system work?
How is it powered and what are its main plus points to other methods of transportation?
Much like a hybrid car we use electricity but we also generate it. The electricity goes straight into the power grid so there is no power lost between batteries. It can be from the grid, battery or bloom box. A SkyTran vehicle uses about one third of the energy of a hybrid vehicle. In contrast to other maglev systems, SkyTran does not have to line its rail with magnets, which is costly and time consuming. We have invented a unique system that uses propulsion from electricity and levitation from magnets located in the vehicle.
Is it green?
We use very little energy and what we do use is green. Our electricity is generated from the kinetic motion of the vehicle. We also put solar panels on our guideways to be even greener. We use very little material in the system so overall we have a very small carbon footprint.
Why is Tel-Aviv the first city it will be built in?
One of the obstacles we will face is that it’s new technology that people have not faced. People in Tel-Aviv are very hi-tech friendly. The Israeli government has been very forward in embracing and supporting our technology industries to build our vehicles. The SkyTran vehicles are essentially like little planes so we wanted an aviation company not a car company to build them. All in all, Tel-Aviv is the right location for us.
What cities has it been earmarked for and why?
Commercial operation will probably be in three years. The first phase will be a demonstration track that will be up within a year. This will then get certification from various ministries for transportation around the world. As well as Tel-Aviv, we’re pretty far through with many state governments in India. The Indian Prime Minister was very enthusiastic about the project. The US has a lot of bureaucracy to get through but we do have the support of the federal transportation authority.
What affect(s) will SkyTran have on the transport systems in urban areas?
I think certainly, initially, it will be another layer of transport and will help relieve the pressure on the existing transportation systems. If people are stuck in traffic, they want the privacy of their car rather than public transportation. Government efforts for car pool and car sharing do not work, as people want privacy. What we think we can do, in our private vehicle, is get people out of their cars. What we’re trying to do is to get people out of their cars and into SkyTran. We’re not trying to steal customers from bus and rail companies. As we expand the system, we will see a migration to SkyTran, as it will be the least expensive and most convenient mode of transport.
Would it work in more rural areas?
Economic opportunity is what SkyTran is all about. We don’t want another transportation system that’s going to cost the taxpayer billions of dollars in construction, operation and maintenance. We want these systems to be viable and feasible. Once we go to rural areas that require very long guideways, the system becomes less economical. Our best opportunity is in a large city that has outgrown its original boundaries and people have to commute from suburbs and outlying areas.
Where will it be in ten years time?
You can spin a globe and stop it anywhere and you’ll find congestion. The mandate is: clean up congestion, clean up pollution. If we can get people out of their cars and into SkyTran, we can reduce pollution dramatically and give a better quality of life. We will allow people to move the way they should be moving in the 21st Century.