Fast Company

SkyTran's Personal Magnetic Transporter Is a Physical Version of the Internet


Imagine zipping above the sidewalk crowds in a personal transporter pod suspended from a two foot wide cable propelled by a magnetic field. It's not as far-fetched as you may think. A California startup called Unimodal is building what it calls the SkyTran system--a series of two-person pods that move eight to fifteen feet above people on the ground. Unlike traditional Maglev trains that run on electromagnets, SkyTran will use permanent coil-wrapped magnets.

At first, Unimodal envisions the pods, which move from 10 to 100 miles per hour, toting around passengers on high-traffic routes. For example, SkyTran could take people from the airport to a downtown city center or link regional airports in a network. Eventually, SkyTran could be installed on regular utility poles and connect individual homes and businesses in what Unimodal calls a "physical instantiation of the Internet"--i.e. moving packets on interconnected pipes.


Such a system doesn't come cheap. Unimodal estimates it could cost $10 million a mile, including cables, poles, stations, and cars. That's cheaper than both freeways and light rail, but with most cities already struggling for cash and the government focusing on a country-wide light rail network, what are the chances that an entirely new transportation system will be put into place?

Still, Unimodal is pushing ahead with a prototype, and the company hopes to have a working model in 18 months on a 1,000-foot loop in Mountain View, California. If the government can gin up the money for it, SkyTran could be a way for people who can't afford electric vehicles to move around quickly and efficiently in a clean energy-powered system.

[Via Greentech Media]

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  • allen

    According to florida "The estimated costs for the first two phases are: Tampa to Orlando - $3.5 billion" This is over $41 million per mile.

    Florida would receive $1.25 billion for the project. $2.25 Billion short of what is needed to build.

    Compair Sky Tran at $20million per mile for 84 miles = $1.68billion. Just $430,000,000 short. A lot less money to raise than $2.25 Billion.

    Also with just a few modifications to the SkyTran design a lot of the other "problems" can be solved. Making the "Stations" a bit larger and placing people similar to valet attendants at the stations new jobs are created and the potential for riders to think they can damage the "pods" is decresed. And making the system longer for interstate travel creates a lot of other benifits.
    One example is the safety factors by decresing the amount of small cars on the roads trucks will be more efficient and goods can be delivered faster and safer, this benifits everyone. Insurance companies will pay less out in calims with minimal decrese in preimums paid in, since people will still need cars to get to places that the SkyTran system doesn't go.
    There is a lot of energy and brain power being missused to say how things like this can't be done without offering a better way, not so much here on this sight but a lot of others are doing it insted of coming up with soulitions to the problems that they are pointing out.

  • Fred Berman

    Dudley, you seem to have missed the part about the speed being from 10-100 mph. It doesn't have to go 100mph, they can limit the speed to whatever is appropriate, no need for extra lanes.

    I'm not sure how you come to your final conclusions, 100mph is pretty fast, even if the speed is limited to 25mph in the city, that's still faster than cars move when you factor in stopping at lights and signs. If the claimed costs are met, or even if it does go up to $20 million per mile, that's still quite a bit cheaper than most other public transit systems, or road expansions.

  • Dudley Horscroft

    When you do the calculations for speeds of 100 mph, you find that the lengths of the acceleration and braking lanes means the stations will be a long, long way apart. Definitely not suitable for suburban areas, unless you have triple or quadruple lanes in parallel, if you want stops no more than 1/4 mile apart (normal max for suburban areas). Worse for SBD areas where stations should be closer. This puts the cost up to $20 or $20 million per mile. Note that the stop shown is not disability compliant. There must be no step from the platform into the car, and there must be either an escalator or a lift to get people from ground level to the platform. OK, artist's impression, but up go the costs, else you bring the line down to ground level at stops. That produces problems with passenger comfort; braking heavily when going down hill? Or only braking a little - which increases the length of the deceleration lane - up goes costs. These systems have been considered many times since "Cabtrack" in London (Report dated 1971). Practicality: possible; speeds: slow; costs only just reasonable, but never good enough to justify building system.