NASA to build pod-like, high-speed everyday transport system

Futuristic commuter systems thanks to NASA robotics

It looks a little like the Jetson's flying car but it travels on magnetically levitated highways. That's one vision of a future commuter system that could be developed by a marriage of NASA robot-control software and car-like pods from Unimodal Systems.

Specifically, per an agreement announced today between Unimodal and NASA, Unimodal will contribute its SkyTran vehicle and its advanced transportation technology while NASA will provide its Plan Execution Interchange Language (PLEXIL) and Universal Executive (UE) robot control software to control the vehicle.

SkyTran will use small vehicles running on elevated, magnetically levitated (maglev) guideways, which distinguishes it from other railed systems. The vehicles are lightweight, personal compartments that can transport up to three passengers, according to Unimodal. Travelers board the pod-like vehicles and type their destinations into a small computer. Using intelligent control system software, SkyTran will run non-stop point-to-point service without interrupting the flow of traffic, the company said.

These vehicles will eventually travel up to 150 mph and move 14,000 people per hour, both locally and regionally. SkyTran will serve as a feeder system to other transit systems, NASA stated.

"SkyTrans personal rapid transit has generated serious interest with local, regional and state transportation leaders who are considering funding the building of the Unimodal maglev PRT system in the NASA Research Park, said Michael Marlaire, director of NASA Research Park at Ames. "This construction and new R&D partnership may usher a new green technology maglev PRT system into Silicon Valley."

From the marriage, NASA should receive feedback on its software usefulness in ground-based propulsion systems, while Unimodal will develop a transportation system designed to eliminate traffic congestion, mitigate greenhouse gases and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

A couple years ago Moller International, said it was developing a flying car, a "Jetsons-like M200G Volantor, a small airborne, two passenger, saucer-shaped vehicle that is designed to take off and land vertically." The company is developing the engine and other components of the craft, according to its Web site.

DARPA too is looking to develop what it called a personal air vehicle that could transport 2 to 4 personnel either by driving on roads or flying. The agency said such a craft would be ideal for military scouting and personnel transport missions.

To add a little more pizzazz to the project, DARPA said the machine should also have a vertical take-off capability and that it would need a "morphing wing" that could rapidly retract or deploy. The main idea being that the machine wouldn't be restricted to prepared surfaces for the most military utility.

DARPA went on to say the personal air vehicle needs to be able to fly for 2 hours, carry 2 to 4 , be no wider than 8.5 feet and no longer than 24 feet, and no higher than 7 feet when in the road configuration and drive at up to 60 MPH or fly at up to 150 MPH.

Meanwhile Woburn, Mass.-based Terrafugia, reported last spring that its Transition roadable aircraft completed its first flight. The flight was confined to the expanse of the runway, which let the company to test its stability and controllability.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags NASA

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Cooney

Network World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?