New Delhi: Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) will finalize the site for India’s first capsule taxi prototype, the next-generation transport system, under the terms of the agreement between Reliance and SkyTran, announced last week. Pod taxi is a personal rapid transit system without driver, which runs along a predetermined course either through the upper suspension or magnetic levitation.
“According to the agreement, the prototype will be built in the place decided by Reliance,” said one person, who was part of the agreement negotiations, requesting anonymity. Once the pilot and subsequent tests are carried out successfully, the company will have to establish separate agreements with the central and state governments to establish the=infrastructure, according to the terms of the respective governments, he added.
“For the prototype, some bits will be imported from the US. UU., While most will be held in India. In return, Reliance will help SkyTran with multiple technologies to run the taxi pod, including communication technology, which is an important part of the agreement. ”
Last week, Reliance Industrial Investments and Holdings Ltd, a subsidiary of RIL, acquired a 12.7% stake in US-based technology company SkyTran. The strategic investment was made through the financing of shares, with the option of investing more up to $25 million in convertible bonds, subject to the approval of SkyTran’s board of directors.
SkyTran, which has partnerships with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), has investments from Eric Schmidt, an American businessman and former CEO of Google, and Timothy Cook Draper, a American venture capitalist.
“Reliance, Eric and Timothy, if combined, will have around 35-40% participation in SkyTran,” said a second person aware of the terms of the agreement, which also requests anonymity. He said that for a prototype, “the baseball stadium number will be 100 knots per kilometer per bidirectional line, which will include a reasonable number of vehicles.”
The person added that SkyTran’s market valuation is in “one billion dollars of single digits”, but declined to disclose the exact figure.
The idea of introducing pod taxis in India was made by Nitin Gadkari, the minister of road and highway transport, in 2016. Subsequently, in January 2017, a NITI Aayog panel approved the ministry’s proposal to test three rapid transport systems using pod taxis.
The three global companies in the battle were Ultra Global PRT, SkyTran and Metrino PRT.
Ultra Global is the only company whose technology has been tested and is in commercial use. Their pod vehicles are made of steel, have rubber tires and run on specially made tracks. The Ultra Global system has been in use at Heathrow Airport in London, and operates at 45 km/h.
SkyTran capsule cabs are run with their latest generation passive magnetic levitation technology, while Metrino capsules are suspended from the top rails. The SkyTran technology is in the testing phase, while Metrino has developed a prototype that was tested in 2007 in Poland, but has not yet been commercially operated.
However, last year, Metrino Personal Rapid Transit of New Zealand decided to withdraw and canceled its joint venture with an Indian partner after failing to obtain funds for the project.
The approval was granted on the condition that the technologies must first be tested in a 1 km stretch, and the bidders must perform the tests at their own risk and cost. In addition, the government said that the pilot project should be executed in such a way that, if successful, it can be extended to 15-20 km, and also ensure safety during testing.
The committee of experts of Niti Aayog had observed that the energy consumed per km of passengers by such systems of fast transit is much smaller than in other modes of transport.