skytran: tel aviv builds the levitating public transit of the future
skytran: tel aviv builds the levitating public transit of the future
jul 29, 2013

skytran: tel aviv builds the levitating public transit of the future

skytran: tel aviv builds the levitating public transit of the future
all images courtesy of skytran




tel aviv is set to become the world’s first city with the magnetically levitating skytran system of mass transit, described by its developers as ‘the jetsons made into real life’. designed to reduce urban traffic congestion, skytran would provide a greener, less expensive, faster, and more comfortable alternative to cars and bus lines through the use of personal two-seater pods in a point-to-point service which travelers can use to reach specific destinations. a vehicle is requested via website or mobile app and arrives almost instantly. the traveler boards, having already entered the desired stop, and the pod glides there directly. in this way, skytran also provides a possible solution to the last mile problem encountered in most public transit networks.


the system was co-developed by engineers from NASA and the private company skytran, based at NASA’s ames research center in california, where a full-scale working skytran is currently under construction. tel aviv, the first city to begin implementing the maglev system, has just appointed US consultancy jenkins gales & martinez to oversee the introduction of the revolutionary technology.



animated demo of the skytran concept
video by ashley tylere for skytran



whereas creating or expanding underground metro systems is disruptive and expensive, the skytran pods move on a guideway suspended 20 feet above ground, making use of untouched vertical real estate. modular construction methods means that the actual installation of a skytran system greatly reduces both cost and time compared to the construction of other kinds of public transport. stations for the systems, comprising simply a staircase and platform, are spaced so that the average distance from a hub to any point in the covered area will be within about one quarter mile, although larger hubs could provide service in major existing metropolitan centers. when boarding and discharging passengers, pods utilize a side ‘acceleration line’ track so as not to block up traffic.


the pods are built of composite materials to be lightweight and thus easily supportable. like a tram, the vehicles are powered via electric current running from above; jerry sanders, CEO of skytran, says that these guideways will eventually be outfitted with solar panels, making skytran a nearly energy net neutral system of public transit. magnetic levitation, enabled by the presence of a magnet in each pod and an induction coil within the skyway, minimizes the effects of friction for a quiet and smooth ride, and while the cars can run at speeds up to 150mph (241km/hr), their actual speed will be considerably less than that in urban environments and as travelers become accustomed to the system.




jim brasher of the television show masters of innovation visits the skytran to talk with jerry sanders




skytran’s CEO jerry sanders estimates that while the cost of a skytran trip would be slightly more expensive than a bus because of its more private enclosure, it would remain less than a comparable trip in a taxi, in addition to being faster. alongside tel aviv, other cities in israel, as well as in india, indonesia, malaysia, and the USA have all expressed interest in installing skytran networks.



skytran station
design render for an outdoor skytran station



concept video for a large interior skytran station hub
video courtesy jerry sanders



view within a skytran pod in the maglev personal public transit system
view from the front seat inside a proposed skytran pod



design concept for skytran 'metrocard'
a networked system of transit cards and web and smartphone apps provides access to the skytran system




skytran pods are reserved via smartphone app
skytran runs on no set schedule; travelers request a pod by specifying their desired starting and ending locations via app




tel aviv is set to be the first city to implement a skytran system
additional concept view

  • This idea of pod cars and PRT has been invented so many times it is getting ludicrous. Very few PRT systems have been built and are still in operation – these are almost all, if not all, at Universities to take students from one campus to an adjoining campus, where capital and operating cost is not a question, and where stations are few, so there is no choice.
    Columns must be thick and strong – unless in pedestrian areas only – think cars or trucks crashing into them and bringing the guideway down. There will be major delays waiting for an empty pod unless there are far more pods than passengers, deceleration and acceleration lanes will be long, taking just about all the space between stations, unless the acceleration is done on the main line – this latter means large spacing of pods and low throughput – but in either case there will need to be a delay waiting for a suitable space to slot into.
    All this was considered by the ANU and Bishop Alltrans – latest I heard is that the long test track was never built and the short test track and pods were rotting away in a field. For any country where consideration is given to disabled or handicapped persons, escalators and lifts will be required at every stop – the cost is appalling for the very low throughput of passengers – justifiable for the high throughput of a subway or suburban rail line, and not needed for a tramway, on or off street.

    Dudley Horscroft
  • Travelling along a freeway in So Cal, I see perfect wasted real estate in the center reservation. There would be no need to have stairs as the access points could be wherever a major road crossed the freeway. Maybe the “Downtown” offices don’t want pods floating past their windows, but in the suburbs, the sight of pods skimming to their destinations over crowded freeways (crowded by our “Dowtown” commuters) would be a very pleasant spectacle. And, yes even if it was a little inconvenient to get to the access point, I would gladly use such a system.

    Chris B
  • @Alex K: RE “why not have a train” is that smaller pods allow lighter weight, and less expensive infrastructure, furthermore, allowing 1-3 minute stops would take away from the other advantage of PRT, which is direct travel without stopping.
    @Alex: One–way track allows better coverage to a larger area for a lower cost, and adds minimal time to a trip. Areas with higher traffic could however implement two tracks if traffic deemed it necessary.
    With regards to handicap access, Skytran uses a sexy but small maglev pod. Such pods could be reconfigured to accommodate wheelchairs. As for the station access, compare the accessibility of stations in Manhattan, where only every few subway stations are accessible. An equal amount of accessibility could be achieved by implementing stations into existing buildings or transit stations, or even at ground level. Vectus PRT is an example of a more accessible system.

  • I wonder if there’s going to be a 20 foot high club with those?
    Also, can I hotbox it without police issues?
    If no to both, I’ll stay in my own car or in a cab..

  • alex k. The cost per trip is more expensive than the cost per trip of a bus. The cost per vehicles will be a lot cheaper. I agree that each pod needs no controls or entertainment. People can and will use and bring there phones. Book your trip on your phone scan your code to get in, the pod takes you to your destination you get out end of story.

    The flaws I can see…
    It would be best if both directions of pods could operated from one rail side by side. E.g the rail is 2feet wide and the pods pass each other 1ft apart.
    The pods need to be able to take buggies/prams/push chairs and possibly wheel chairs. If you are calling a pod up you should call up a disabled pod or a buggy pod or even a family sized pod for 4 or 5 people travelling together.
    The stations/ platforms needs disabled access and pushchair access.

  • “skytran’s CEO jerry sanders estimates that while the cost of a skytran trip would be slightly more expensive than a bus because of its more private enclosure, it would remain less than a comparable trip in a taxi” –

    Less costly that a BUS?!? This seems to be a luxury transportation solution, just from the look of it with all these controls and the television screen in the pods. Guess some rich people think that taxis are not private or luxury enough..

    But honestly, questions that come into mind are, if Maglev is better and at those heights it clears traffic, why not a whole train, or maybe half a train? And also why not make them fully automated, with maybe 1 minute stop time at stations (could be extended to 2-3 minutes for handicapped people and parents with strollers) and without manual control or any kinds of gadgets and buttons inside? That should lower the price, and what’s with using composite materials when the chances of accidents are much smaller anyway, and supposedly it’s going to be very low energy system in the future?

    The pricing is totally wrong, it just seems to be the main problem. It cannot compete with metro if one pod costs a whole bus, because that would make the whole pod system TIMES higher than the metro system. Why don’t people in North America think of supporting their train manufacturers by investing in metro lines that would be made in concentric lines, in order to deal with the last mile problem?

    alex k
  • you will not achieve 150 in medieval city centres or small cities like switzerland. However intercity expresses are great too, and could be a cheaper alternative to the transrapid.

  • The pods should be designed to carry not only people, but: 1) baby strollers 2) bicycle 3)handicap chairs. And perhaps should be designed to accommodate at least four people alternatively so small families or groups can travel together. Otherwise, great idea, I hope it gets implemented!

  • Very interesting… 🙂

  • They haven’t spoken of how they will get approval from of all of the owners of the office buildings for the right to have these run in front of their windows. Los Angeles had spent the better part of 3 years in negotiations with all of the Downtown businesses that they wanted a system to pass in front of and it was extremely difficult to get 2 of the more influential private social clubs and other businesses to agree to allowing elevated transit of any kind to pass in front of their 2nd floor windows.
    The photo of the vehicles installed in San Francisco and running along a residential street is hopelessly romantic. I seriously doubt that a resident wants these vehicles passing in front of their main windows. (An aside: All of the work within the business district was completed when Reagan became president and he took away 80% of the funds for construction. This was in 1997)
    I don’t see any consideration of handicap access as one enters the vehicle nor accesses the vehicles on the street.
    I can tell you right now that i would not walk up those stairs to get to one of these.
    The concept is not new. There are a lot of businesses in ‘Silicone Valley’. There is no real advantage to using ‘Mag lev’ to move these vehicles around for this purpose. This is not a well thought out proposal. I saw a bit of bad graphics, mention of the Jetson’s, no working prototype and a lot of talk.

    Ron Smith

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