Two Innovations to Revolutionize How People Get Around in Israel
The first transportation alternative is said to take off the ground—literally!—within two years. According to the description on the Israel21c.org website, this futuristic rapid transport system called skyTran
“uses two-person modules that drive along a guide rail suspended from existing power lines. Magnets in the vehicle create a magnetic field around the metal coil inside the rail, causing the vehicle to lift up and glide 60 miles per hour on a cushion of air. The system uses very little energy and potentially could be powered entirely by solar panels.”
Construction of the first route, which will run from the high-tech center in Atidim through the Tel Aviv University train station and end at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Port, is scheduled to begin next spring. The second line is likely to be built on the congested east side of Netanya, a coastal city about half-way between Tel Aviv and Haifa, and the third line would take people into and around Ariel Sharon Park, a huge public “green belt” in central Israel. While underground transportation solutions are expensive, and street-level systems just add more congestion, skyTran is expected to solve both of these problems. The cost of implementing skyTran is estimated at $9 million per mile, as opposed to $100 million per mile for a light rail system and $20 million per lane for buses. Maintenance costs too are supposed to be remarkably low because “the vehicles don’t encounter resistance like wheel-based systems do, so there is no wear and tear from wheels hitting pavement or track. When the vehicle comes to a station, it rests on little rollerblade wheels,” says the project’s CEO Jerry Sanders. The fare is thought to be competitive with Tel Aviv’s taxi van service. Not only will skyTran be relatively cheap to use, but it will combine the positive aspects of both public and private transportation. Unlike other means of mass transit, it does not require people to share vehicles, to have to get to a station or to follow someone else’s schedule. Once this space-age system is operational, riders will be able to
“order a vehicle by tapping an icon on their smartphone. Once inside the pod, the passenger chooses a destination from an on-board console. The vehicles, which provide full Internet access, can be owned by individuals, by companies as a fleet to pick up workers, and by municipalities – all running together at the same time. Traffic control is accomplished through a sophisticated computer program.”
Such Personal Rapid Transit systems are in demand worldwide, but Israel has been chosen as the beta site for a number of reason. According to Sanders, one such reason is that Israel “has a very sophisticated population with no fear of technology”. Also important was the fact that Israel’s bureaucracy “is not as onerous as in some other Western countries. It’s a ‘two-telephone call’ country. Once the government knows about something and is interested in it, they find a way to clear the bureaucratic hurdles”, says Sanders. While the skyTran system is currently being developed at the NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Mountain View—just 10 miles south of the GeoCurrents home base—there are plans to move both software development and hardware production to Israel, where many local engineers and blue-collar workers would be available for easy retraining.
The second innovation that may reshape transportation in Israel is homegrown. Much less high-tech than the skyTran system, it too is expected to relieve congestion, reduce energy consumption, and be cheap to produce. And it is certainly environmentally “green” (though the actual colors are cherry red and light blue). The “father” of this invention, Izhar Gafni of Moshav Ahituv, a settlement near Hadera on Israel’s northern coast, is clearly not afraid of “reinventing the wheel” or, in this case, a bicycle. But unlike the many high-tech bicycle designs on the market today, Gafni’s two-wheeled creation is a $20 bike made out of cardboard. From the start of design process, Gafni, who weighs about 250 pounds, knew that the key to his invention is to get the “cardboard” to the necessary strength. It is achieved by folding the material made from wood pulp in a variety of ways like origami and adding a mixture of glue and varnish. When he finished building the first model and tried it out, “it was a really exciting moment, a real triumph that it withheld [my] weight and did not crumble or collapse,” Gafni recalls. After making a splash in international headlines, Gafni is now working on designing an environmentally friendly brake system and a pedaling mechanism made of a variety of recyclable materials. Plans are being developed to market the cardboard bike in poor countries, especially in Africa, where people often need to walk long distances to get to a clinic for medical treatment or to find work. India and China are also thought of as potentially promising markets. Moreover, Karin Kloosterman of the environmental news website Green Prophet points out that the bike’s low retail price could also make it attractive to people in wealthier countries who often have their bikes stolen or lost and do not want to invest too much money in buying a new one.