The world's first hover car system is to be built in Israel, and is expected to open as a pilot scheme in 2015. Constructed by U.S. firm skyTran, whose HQ is situated in the NASA Research Center in California, it will start off life as a 1,640-foot long pilot scheme on the Israel Aerospace Industries campus. If testing proves successful, the city of Tel Aviv will get itself 4.3 miles of guideway (that's what skyTran calls the route that the cars go on), three stations, and a bunch of two-seater cars that will be able to move as many passengers in one hour as a three-lane freeway can. And the cost to Tel Aviv, which has no subway system and is often gridlocked, will be just $50 million.
Jerry Saunders, skyTran's CEO, talked about the project with Reuters yesterday. Although the cars on the pilot scheme will only go at about 43 miles per hour, once the commercial version is up and running, the pods could reach speeds of over 150 miles per hour.
"It can handle 12,000 people an hour per guideway, and that number grows exponentially with each additional guideway," said Saunders. "That is more than a light rail and equal to three lanes of highway."
The system would work via smartphone, with passengers booking a car to pick them up at a specific station. Once safely in, the vehicle would then zoom them, suspended around 20 feet off the ground by magnetic levitation, to their destination. Transport officials in the U.S. and India will both be watching the pilot scheme closely, as they have plans to bring skyTran's hover car system to their cities.
Maglev is nothing new — the first public transport system that used the technology was built in 1984 and ran between the UK city of Birmingham's airport and a train station. It was shut down, however, and re-built as a conventional cable link barely a decade later, as it was too expensive to maintain. Both Japan and China are experimenting with maglev to create a new generation of ultra-fast rail transport. China has its super-maglev (that's short for high-temperature, superconducting magnetic levitation train) which is expected to hit around 370 miles per hour, and Japan's version is expected to be ready by 2025. Auto manufacturers, such as Toyota, have also been looking into the concept of using hovering techniques for future vehicles.