# Big Think Interview With Doug Malewicki

Question: What was the genesis of the Sky Tran idea?

Doug Malewicki: Years and years ago, the wife and I were driving to a movie down Culver, which is divided with a bunch of poles and the idea hit me. But the idea was stimulated by a flyer we got from the Mayor of Irvine talking about \$120 million light rail project for Irvine which seemed like a ridiculous amount of money 20 years ago. And I kind of figured this out based on my previous experience with the streamlined California Commuter that wow, we can move a lot of people around very fast with aerodynamic little vehicles, low power, and I think I was up until 2:00 in the night after that movie doing a lot of math and calculations because that’s what this all boils down to.

Question: How does the Sky Tran system work?

Doug Malewicki: We kind of call it the physical Internet. And it will be silicon-based transportation. Silicone is something different. We will have little vehicles, two-passenger tandem vehicles, very streamlined; neighborhood speed is 35 mph, major arteries is 100 mph, intercity 150 mph, and they have to be MagLev. You can’t have little vehicles with little wheels and gears, there are other personal rapid transit systems, but they’re limited to about 35-45 mph and if you get a lot of utility out of those – say, you’re putting on 60,000 miles a month, you’re changing tires and gears out all the time, we will have a maintenance nightmare. MagLev, nothing is contacting. There is no wear. So, we have to be MagLev, we have to be very small frontal area and very streamlined. And we’re talking about the equivalent of 200 mpg efficiency in terms of energy costs and no fossil fuels to burn; totally non-polluting. These things are small and light enough that all of a sudden we’re discovering that we can afford to have them solar powered. Now, solar is very expensive, but if you had a train, you couldn’t even create enough power to move a million pounds, but when you’re talking about a 200-pound vehicle with say 500 pounds of payload, solar become pretty practical. So, we may be a total non-grid powered system of the future.

Solar-powered Sky Tran, the solar can be anywhere. Ideally somewhere out in the desert. You just have to look at the costs to install it. There’s new nano-solar, which apparently is going to cut down the costs of solar by a factor of 10, and then they’re saying when we figure out some new brilliant things to cut it down by a factor of five, it will be the choice for all kinds of power. But in the meantime, we’ve got to get rid of fossil fuels. This is one thing that Sky Tran enables is getting rid of fossil fuels and moving people around fast everywhere, non-stop.

Sky Tran runs up in the air on elevated, we call them micro-freeways, guide ways. They’re trapped, they can never derail, they’re up above all traffic, so you don’t have to worry about hitting pets, or potholes in the road; there’s no such critters. You can’t hit kids or other people. People are finally becoming aware of the automatic braking systems for cars that have been around for 10 years, and we’ve been talking about that for Sky Tran forever. You need that. So, if it senses something has happened to a vehicle ahead, it will just stop automatically.

Question: How would the Sky Tran eliminate rush-hour traffic?

Doug Malewicki: Sky Tran has the potential to eliminate commuter congestion totally in the city, and that’s mainly because of the cost. Compared to the light rail especially, you can afford to put parallel guides, in other words – what’s the best way to – say the 405 Freeway. Here, which is a jam, here you could afford the 406, the 407, the 408, the 403, 402, 401 parallel, and then another set of freeways, micro-freeways, perpendicular and then these are all interconnected, so now just think, if you normally get on the 405 and it’s congested, but you could go on the 404, or the 403, or 406, 407, all of a sudden you’re traffic is way down.

The other aspect I haven’t pointed out is, the Sky Tran going 100 mph with the automation factory-type separations that are very, very common these days, we can carry more on this one little rail with these two passenger people, than a three-lane freeway per hour. So, that’s why we use this freeway analogy. And these are very low cost compared to freeways and especially to light-rail.

Question: What kind of density are you imagining for the stations?

Doug Malewicki: We don’t need a high-density around our stations as does light rail to justify the cost because our costs are minimum compared to that. So, we can actually put Sky Tran anywhere; in any little neighborhood, out in the boondocks. The big advantage when we’re talking intercity, comparing to the big trains is, say you’re going Frisco to Los Angeles. So, how many stations are you going to have? You might stop in, depending on the route, Merced, Bakersfield, Fresno, I don’t know. But here, right in San Francisco, you could have 200 stations along that route. So people could conveniently get on and the same with LA. And once you build the grids out in LA and San Francisco, you can go anywhere and get to LA. You could afford to go up there for an evening dinner and go home in a reasonable time too.

Question: How would Sky Tran deal with “the last mile” problem?

Doug Malewicki: There is a problem called, “the last mile.” In other words, if we’re on a one-mile by one-mile 3D grid in the city and we’ve got the city covered, the average person has to walk about five minutes to get to any place within that grid. That’s because we cover a city. Now, light raid, you might have one linear line in a big city. So, you might have to travel four or five miles to get to that light rail to go 15-17 miles per hours somewhere, and then when you get off, are you going to be at your place you want to be, or are you going to have to travel another three or five miles. And this is the intermodel, where you hop on a bus, hop on a light rail, and then hop on another bus to get where you really wanted.

For light rail and things like that, it’s not a last mile, it could be the last 10 miles. With us, it’s a last 600 steps that you have to worry about. And we have cool inventions, which we can’t tell you about, but how about five pound fold-up scooters and things like that that have enough range to get you there? And there’s all kinds of solutions for this. And eventually, once the Sky Tran really takes off, it’ll probably end up going right to people’s houses and maybe you’ll have one car, you won’t need three cars to a family any more and this will change the whole thing. But that’s way off in the future.

Question: How can the Sky Tran’s key technologies be applied to wind energy?

Doug Malewicki: The same Sky Tran technologies for linear synchronist motors and the MagLev are being applied to wind technologies. What we’re doing, with our partner, One Cycle Control and Power Conversion, there’s a couple of aspects of this. We are, number one: building a unit here in Irvine to go up in Palm Springs to replace a 1980’s Norwegian 58 ft diameter windmill, 65 KW. This should be going up in a couple of weeks. We’ll have to test it for a coupe of months and then there will be several hundred, if they like the data they see. In other words, we do all this math and physics, but now you’ve got to build stuff and prove it. So that’s what we’re doing. So this technology, we will eliminate the gear boxes where you have a direct drive system, 40 percent of the lifetime cost of the windmills is the gear boxes. They wear out. The same reason on Sky Tran; you don’t want gear boxes and tires, things wear out.

The other aspect is, the power conversion. We can take low, low speeds and high, high speeds and supply to the utilities, Southern California Edison in this instance, proper frequency electric. In other words, if all your frequency is 60 cycle, maybe they can accept between 50 and 70. Well if they’re grid is being pulled down to say, 59.3 cycles a second, guess what we’re going to deliver; 59.3. And this is the one-cycle control power technology. What this enables is we can gather energy at very low speeds and higher speeds, up to the limitations where you have a good structural safety factor on the props. We, side-by-side, the geared type system compared to our system, in a year we should be able to sell about double the energy to Southern California Edison on the same wind profile, on the same hill. There’s going to be pretty high. We’re getting a lot of interest and financial interest in this technology and it really actually gets better when we start talking three or five megawatt windmills. The big one. There’s even 10 megawatt windmills being designed now too.

Question: What is MagLev and how does it work?

Doug Malewicki: When you pass a magnet over a wire, it induces a current in that wire. If you run alternately, if you run a current through a wire, it creates an electromagnetic field. So, if you have a whole bunch of coils and you start passing some magnets over them, which are on this vehicle. And you design this all correctly; it will actually start lifting the vehicle off. There’s a repulsion, and it’s stable. So, now what happens, if you lose the power to propel the vehicle, you do not lose the magnetic levitation, the passive magnetic levitation. So, it’s super safe.

With seven pounds of lithium polymer backup batteries in our vehicles, say we’re going 100 mph, and we lose all grid power, we can still go three miles and we should have stations every mile apart. So, there’s a big safety factor with passive MagLev. And again, there’s always had to be some kind of MagLev because we do not want all the maintenance costs associated with gears and little tires wearing out and we want the high-speed capability.

Question: How does the Sky Tran system compare with the MagLev train?

Doug Malewicki: Like the Trans Rapid MagLev train that I think goes, what I think 300 mph in Beijing for a short distance. The first one. If they lose power, they lose their levitation. You would come to a screeching halt. They have to have all kinds of computer, uninterrupted backup power supplies and things so that never happens. And you can design that. However, that is a huge train, a very expensive – just ridiculously expensive – pretty fast and very high maintenance that because their MagLev is so critical intolerance, they have to keep that track super aligned properly. Where ours is very tolerant and our vehicles are small, so everything is cheap in comparison. A lot less expensive. That thing probably weights a million pounds and our little vehicles at gross weight weights 750 pounds. It’s just that we have a continuous stream of vehicles and they have the one big vehicle. So, they are flying; if you want to call it flying, every what, half hour? In our case, if they’re going 300 mph, in our case you’d get there, boom, you’d be on board and going. So, you’d probably get there just as quick going 150 mph if we put it side-by-side with the Beijing’s Trans Rapid System.

Question: How does Sky Tran compare to a light rail system?

Doug Malewicki: Sky Tran is a much cheaper option compared to light rail because we’re lighter, smaller, and faster. We can move more people an hour, use a lot less energy, a lot less, or no land, basically. We can pop Sky Tran onto sidewalks where they have to – there 60-70 million a mile, a lot of that is just buying up land, valuable land. We don’t need to do that. We just need a two-foot post every so many feet to build our system and we can attach it to buildings. That’s the advantage of going small. And they can carry so many people, but even if they’re coming by once very five minutes, or once every three minutes, once you have a continuous system with convenient stations everywhere, you can carry a lot more people per hour.

It’s very close to the automobile. Why have we started loving the automobile? Because we can get places faster, cheaper, more conveniently. Unfortunately, the fossil fuels – everyone is starting hating the fossil fuels. It’s just like back in the original days of this country, the Jamestown Colony was ready to go back to England, and then all of a sudden they got a product that people would buy. Guess what that was? Tobacco. And now tobacco is an evil product and fossil fuels are going that same way. And that was the second product that really made this country; World War II and everything, and all the technology based on fossil fuels. But now we’re becoming more and more aware of all the total disadvantages of it and it’s getting to be like an evil thing. It isn’t, but we will, with our little brains, figure out how to get around it. And Sky Tran is one good way to do that.

Question: Which cities are most interested in Sky Tran?

Doug Malewicki: New Orleans is very interested, I’ve been to Sweden. Sweden seems to really understand what this type of technology can do for reducing energy requirements, moving people, totally eliminating traffic congestion. We also went to Abu Dhabi; my two business buddies – partners. And they have this future of the city Mazdar being built. Now, we didn’t win that, and I was almost happy because they’re talking like a 14-mile per hour system that’s also going to carry freight and garbage and everything else like that. That’s not my goal. My goal is solving the commuter congestion problem and moving people around the city and getting dad home early – a lot faster, a lot saner, and a lot safer. We haven’t talked about safety, but safety is a big issue when you’re talking this kind of computer controlled technology.

Cities in the U.S., we’re talking to Santa Cruz is interested, Marin County, New Orleans looks very interested, NASA Aims, where we have our short little powered prototype, full-size prototype is going to create an innovation university and we may be a little feeder from the Cal Train to all over the campus there which will be a good test thing going. We’ll be running 25 mph for a year, and then the next system will be the 35 mph system, and we’ll keep building that up. There’s inquiries from all over. It’s just how many are real.

Question: How would you go about integrating Sky Tran into a current transportation system?

Doug Malewicki: We are looking into becoming like feeders for light rail. So, here’s my system, or going 40-50 mph in the beginning to feed a system that will take people around at 15 or 17 mph. We also make a lot of sense for the future for airports, to take people right to their gates. You pop in luggage in another vehicle and it would take you right there.

One of the real good future things is, say you’re going to Florida, you get on in New York, you fly down to Florida, you checked your baggage in, in New York, you never have to see it again. It’s gong to appear in your hotel. The Sky Tran Micro Freeway is so inexpensive, we could run it – once you get off the airport in Florida to 50 different hotels. And you’d get out at your gate, within 200 feet, you’d be on the Sky Tran and boom, you’d be in your hotel you picked, and your luggage might already be there, or it might be there 10 minutes later. That’s the future that I’ve always seen for this type of a system.

Question: What should be the role of policymakers in this undertaking?

Doug Malewicki: We don’t need their money. This should be a private enterprise. We just don’t need the special interests protection 1900’s train technologies like it’s the ultimate forever. Everything can be improved forever. We’re trying to do that, baby. It is so logical. The computer technology, the aerodynamics, the composite structures, the control systems, the user interface, it’s all well understood. It could have been done 15 or 10 years ago, easily. So, it just takes a while for people to grasp it. They’ll probably be scared of it the first couple of years; the teenagers will love it right off the bat; the iPhone kids. And little by little it’ll open up a lot of things. Younger people will be able to go places with ease. Older, more frail people who don’t have a driver’s licenses anymore can go places. Emergency medical service. Bam. One hundred mph into the Emergency Room directly when you have a problem. All kinds of things you have to spend a lot of time understanding all the implications of what this kind of a transportation system can provide.

Question: How would the technology you are developing lead to low-cost access to space?

Doug Malewicki: Sky Tran technology applies to many, many other fields, and especially our partner who is now – we are all licensed and business official partners with exclusive licenses, one cycle control. We could even do lower cost access to space with electronics; with this power conversion system. Greg Smedley and his genius wife, Kay, have come up with – we could build a small guide way up a mountain, say like in Hawaii. I wouldn’t mind spending some time over there. More time over there. And if you look at a regular space vehicle, 50% of the fuel is used to get up to about 50,000 feet and 1,200 miles per hour. And we could be doing electric launches that would take payloads, up to about Mach1, a little less than 1,200 mph, at 10,000 ft elevation. And then they’re working super sonic combustion ram jets. And that’s getting more feasible. And you can get out of 99% of Earth’s atmosphere and then you finally have this little rocket that would boost you out. These are micro-satellites. These are not big space shuttle-type vehicles.

Then, while the cart – the dolly that carried this supersonic ram jet up the mountain building up to speed is coasting back, you actually are regenerating capturing some of your energy. So, it makes micro-satellite launches very cheap.

The aeronautical engineers like myself who have been looking at this as a method to launch stuff into space cheaply for years, but the electronic power conversion technology we have now is really making it look practical. It’ll happen.

Question: What are some other game changing mobility ideas out there right now?

Doug Malewicki: I don’t think the Segway is one, but I think Elon Musk creating that company to build the test electric cars is one. He’s also done SpaceX. And he is doing – actually they have launched the first commercial liquid fuel paying payload ever in history by a commercial company. And he’s getting ready to launch stuff – big stuff. Vulcan 9, which will carry supplies to the Space Station so we don’t have to shoot billions of dollars to Russia, we can spend it here. And they’re also going to do a man rated capsule.

Other mobility technology is out there. There are other, what they call, personal rapid transit systems out there. A whole bunch of people with ideas, but they’re all 35-45 mph limited systems. They may work in the interim. High speed rail, forget it. You can do so much more with this because you’re not scheduled, you’re on demand, and you can just go non-stop to where you want. It’s going to make a lot more sense.

Airplanes. Everyone wants to go Mach 3. When there will be personal rockets to go from her to Europe, who knows. But some days we’ll have the Star Trek goodies. Teleportation would be great. I don’t know if anyone’s really coming close to figuring that one out.  \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

Recorded on February 3, 2010

A conversation with the President and Chief Scientist of AeroVisions Inc..