Science & Research

NASA Pod Transports Are Close to Reality—in Tel Aviv


NASA Pod Transports Are Close to Reality—in Tel Aviv

Courtesy Skytran

Transport pods that look like silvery fish could soon be whizzing above the streets of Tel Aviv. The Israeli city is looking to become the world’s first to get a mass-transit system co-developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said during a Monday visit to Bloomberg News.

The SkyTran system, which Huldai said could help relieve the traffic congestion that plagues his Mediterranean city, consists of two-person vehicles that hang from rails above street level. The pods are nearly silent because their overhead connectors are levitated by magnetism. Pods pull over on side tracks to pick up and discharge passengers so they don’t slow those behind them. They can travel at speeds up to 150 miles per hour, but in practice would go considerably slower.

Pods can’t substitute for heavy duty rail lines. The maglev rails offer far less carrying capacity than, say, a New York subway line. But they’re designed to reduce the need for cars and taxis by connecting areas that don’t justify the investment in a conventional train line.

The system was co-developed by engineers from NASA and SkyTran, a privately held company based at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jerry Sanders of SkyTran says he’s in talks to raise the roughly $50 million required to build a line to run a little over four miles. That would connect high-tech Atidim Park with an existing train station at Tel Aviv University and a shopping and restaurant district at the city’s north end. After financing and approvals are granted, Sanders estimates that construction and testing will take about 18 months.

The system will be privately owned and will charge fares that are more expensive than a bus ride but cheaper than a taxi, Sanders says. If the first line is successful, he plans to add some that would intersect with it.

Other cities are interested in SkyTran systems. In Israel, Netanya is close behind Tel Aviv in the approval process, Sanders says, and he is in talks with Stavanger, Norway, as well as two cities in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Coy_190
Coy is Bloomberg Businessweek's economics editor. His Twitter handle is @petercoy.

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