Anyone who has ever traveled by train in the US can tell you that it is not necessarily the fastest way to travel. Whether one is riding the Phoenix Valley Metro light-rail system, or taking an Amtrak cross country, they tend to lumber towards their destination at a “leisurely” pace. While Amtrak is certainly more fitting of this speed description than say, the Phoenix Valley metro light-rail, or even more, the NYC Subway or the Chicago L, there is a good deal of room for improvement all around.
This is likely what Yusuke Sugahara was thinking when he and his research team sauntered into the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Shanghai with a scale model of a robotic plain-train that levitates on a cushion of air. The “vehicle” looks like a plain, complete with wings and a tail, only it is designed to fly just barely off of the ground.
While some readers may be thinking “Wait, wait a minute now, we have been building hovering trains using electro-magnetic resistance for years now, and they work great, isn’t this just trying to reinvent the wheel?” Well, no, even though these trains perform at a high level, such as the Maglev train in China which tops out at almost 300 mph, there is still a great deal of drag and inefficiency involved. The plain-train concept gets around this problem by embracing it, and then plowing right through it.
The plain-train concept utilizes the “ground effect” as a propulsion mechanism. Pilots and aviation enthusiasts likely know of the ground effect as a danger that inexperienced pilots need to watch out for at very low altitudes, but Yusuke and his team have aerodynamically engineered their concept to utilize this common weakness and turn it into a strength. In other words, they built the plain -train around reality, instead of trying to fit the square peg of reality into the round hole of tradition as is quite often the norm.
While Phoenix Valley residents should not expect the Phoenix Valley Metro light-rail to start levitating anytime soon, science, auto, and tech enthusiasts should keep an eye out in tech publications and at trade shows, both here in the Phoenix Valley area and regionally, for further updates on developments in the field of mass transit technology. Of course, if it is interesting enough, then you can read about here at Arizona Foothills Magazine.