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Moving at the Speed of Internet

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. 

Recorded on February 3, 2010

Picture this: you’re on your way to work, in a pod, going 100 miles per hour. Meet the Sky Tran.

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