US-based skyTran Inc., which is developing pod car systems for urban transport, is ready to build a one-kilometre pilot track in India at its own cost as required by a government panel, a company executive said.
skyTran, a NASA technology partner, is among three companies that have been chosen by the government to build pod cars—driverless vehicles that run along a pre-determined route.
“All we ask for is a welcoming technology- and an investor-friendly framework that encourages and promotes innovation," Ankur Bhatnagar, vice-president of skyTran Asia said in an email.
The company will finance the project on its own, or find a private investor, but will not seek financial support from the government, he said.
The move comes after a NITI Aayog panel cleared transport minister Nitin Gadkari’s proposal to test three rapid transport systems using pod cars.
The three firms that have won approval are Ultra Global PRT, skyTran and Metrino PRT, all of which will form joint ventures with Indian companies. Mint was the first to report the development.
The government think tank had mandated that these new technologies should be tried on a pilot stretch of about 1km in different places, where the bidders will execute the pilot at their own risk and cost.
Of the three, only Ultra’s technology is in commercial use—at London Heathrow airport. Its pod vehicles are made of steel with rubber tyres that run on specially-made tracks, while skyTran pods are magnetically levitated and Metrino pods are suspended from overhead rails. As per company proposals, Ultra will cost around Rs75 core per km, skyTran Rs90 crore per km and Metrino Rs50-60 crore per km.
Bhatnagar said skyTran is looking at speeds of 120-130kmph for intra-city transport and 250kmph for inter-city transport. As all travel will be non-stop and direct (without requiring any changes), the average speed, too, will be of similar order. This means, for example, one can travel from the National Capital Region to, say, Jaipur or Chandigarh in about an hour.
skyTran is a rapid transit system that runs on magnetic levitation and uses personal rapid transit (PRT) architecture, commonly called pod taxis.
The vehicles fly on a cushion of magnetic field at high speed.
In pod taxis, all travel is seated and private. The firm claims its PRT will provide capacity equivalent to six lanes of a highway, at lower costs.
The NITI Aayog has said stretches selected for pod taxi pilots should be such that each one of them can be further extended to a length of 15-20km if successful.
However, the project may take a while to take off.
“This whole process is going to take a long time and we are not prepared for it yet. There are several approvals that have to be taken," said a road ministry official, adding that it may take at least six months to work out the details of how the project is to be executed.
In the past six months, India has emerged as a hot destination for several transport technology giants, including Hyperloop and Hyperloop I who are looking to sell rapid transit systems.