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A new self-driving monorail could cut commutes

A new self-driving monorail will chop 2-hour commutes down to 10 minutes

Imagine if instead of wasting hours in traffic, you could one day fly above it for a price only slightly higher than a subway ride.
That’s the idea behind SkyTran, a self-driving monorail designed to hover 20 feet above roads and travel up to 155 mph. The system would turn a two-hour car commute into a 10-minute trip, SkyTran CEO Jerry Sanders says. 
The first SkyTran system will be in Lagos, Nigeria by 2020. The company also just announced that it will launch a track across Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, partnering with local developer Miral. Although there’s no official completion date yet, Sanders says there are eventual plans to link the track to the Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Yas Island, a popular tourist hub in Abu Dhabi, attracts over 25 million visitors each year. With the opening of a Warner Bros. theme park in 2018, that number is expected to swell to 30 million.
“Everyone hates commuting, but there are no solutions,” Sanders tells Tech Insider. “The only way to get around traffic is to literally go above it.”
SkyTran opened a 900-foot test station on the campus of Israel Aerospace Industries near Tel Aviv in late 2015. By the end of 2016, it will start construction of a 25-mile track in Lagos. The track in Abu Dhabi will stretch 10 miles across Yas Island. 

A map showing Yas Island.Google/Leanna Garfield

Developed by Doug Malewicki, an engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center, the 300-pound pods use magnets to hang from slender rails


NASA and SkyTran designed four different types of steel and aluminum pods: one that seats two people, one that seats four, one for the disabled, and one for larger cargo. Here’s the latest prototype:


In traditional maglevs, a continuous electrical charge passes through coils in the track, propelling the train forward.


A high-speed maglev train in Japan. 
SkyTrans’ aluminum rail levitates with help from gravity, a magnet, and a short burst of electricity. Once the pod reaches 10 mph, it continues to glide and accelerate without any additional power. Skytran uses the same amount of electricity as two hair dryers, Sanders says.


The system is capable of traveling 155 mph, but the pods in Lagos and Yas Island will likely travel 45 to 65 mph to start, Sanders says.


The company says it will only cost about $13 million per mile to build, whereas a subway system can cost at least $160 million for the same distance


The tracks could run through buildings, Sanders says. The small stations could even be built in apartment lobbies.

Like normal public transportation, SkyTran could have stations around the cities. Sanders estimates that a pod ride would cost only slightly more than existing trains.
Using machine learning, the SkyTran system will predict how many people will need pods and at what times. Commuters at some stations may wait in lobbies that look like this:


To request a pod, riders enter their pick-up location and destination in the SkyTran app (assuming they have a smartphone). Unlike a typical light rail or subway system, SkyTran also won’t have a schedule — Passengers will just get in the first pod that shows up.


SkyTran’s system will then send passengers automatically to their destinations. If the pod needs to stop at a station, it will move to another rail so that the one behind it can pass. The pods theoretically never need to stop for traffic.

The company will spend the next few months planning the route and securing labor and supplies for construction. Sanders hopes to expand to other countries, like India, France, and the US within the next decade

The ultimate goal is to make driving in cities history, Sanders says. “Countries can’t afford to have people spend hours a day stuck in traffic.” In congested cities, it may just be the transit alternative we need.

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