If recent reports are to be believed, the city of Sharjah, just north of Dubai, might be on the verge of a mobility breakthrough. The city has its sights set on becoming the first city in the world to use high-speed skypod transportation.
The pods, which can travel at almost 100 miles per hour, are suspended in the air on steel rails and look straight out of science fiction. The pods are currently being tested at Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park and uSky Transport is the company creating the magic. To find out more, Auto Futures spoke to CEO Oleg Zaretskiy.
“uSky Transport is a part of the Unitsky Group of Companies, which was founded by Dr. Anatoli Unitsky, a leading global scientist and visionary in the field of transport,” explains Zaretskiy. “At present, the Group includes an engineering company, manufacturing plant and two test & certification centres. Today, the engineering company alone has 15 design bureaus with more than 300 scientists, engineers, constructors, architects, and designers,” explained Zaretskiy.
“uSky Transport Technology is the innovative transport system that is based on the application of pre-stressed suspended string rails and specially designed rolling stock for moving on steel, electric-driven wheels,” says Zaretskiy. “The transport system includes string-rail suspended overpasses, as well as rolling stock including cargo, urban and high-speed intercity electro mobiles on steel wheels – passenger uBuses, uCars and uBikes, and cargo uTrucks and uConts. So, you see, uSky transport is not a system, but a comprehensive complex that comprises dozens of systems and even more sub-systems.”
This system is a great fit for Sharjah and, perhaps, the UAE more generally. The searing desert temperatures and shifting sands regularly cause problems for existing transport methods.
“A possibility of construction on territories with challenging terrain and adverse climatic conditions, preservation of natural landscapes, versatility and integrability with communication lines – these are just a few of many advantages that uSky technology provides,” says Zaretskiy. “Taking all this into consideration, it is safe to say that the universal application of such systems can contribute to a vigorous and large-scale growth in the social and economic life of any country worldwide.”
But how do the skypods actually work?
“We use electrical motors to drive steel wheels that move on a steel rail as well as having advanced control system with AI features,” says Zaretskiy.
“uSky Transport System requires fewer materials and costs for creating infrastructure elements. One metre of overpass track that mainly consists of packs of pre-stressed steel ropes weighs hundreds of times less than one meter of normal highway and thousands of times less than one meter of monorail trail or Maglev train. Stations, traction power modules, roads, parking are the same as we are used to seeing everywhere. The land below the overpass is not utilised and can be used for pedestrians, agriculture and other activities,” he adds.
“Generally speaking, uSky Transport Technology is based on an innovative string rail. It’s ordinary uncut steel, reinforced concrete beam or truss equipped with a railhead and additionally armed with pre-stressed strings. A flat head of the rail and cylinder-form steel wheel ensure minimal energy consumption during the movement.”
As unique as it is, uSky’s transport system has several advantages over existing modes of transport. For starters, the UST transport systems can provide continuous passenger and cargo transportation in the scope required by the modern megalopolises. The pre-stressed rail technology allows constructing the route even in adverse climatic conditions, which means that it can be implemented just about anywhere.
The uncut structure of a string rail strained between the anchor supports provides a high evenness of the track and significantly reduces the construction costs as compared to other modes. It guarantees a smooth movement of vehicles when compared with ordinary overhead routes because of the simple design of the supporting unit. And finally, the vehicle location above the ground improves its aerodynamics characteristics and significantly reduces energy consumption during the movement.
uSky has been developing transportation solutions for both passengers as well as cargo. When asked about how different is developing a solution for passenger pods as opposed to cargo is, Zaretskiy explained:
“We have the same technology for passenger and cargo transport. But, of course, there are a lot of differences in the details. The cargo transport is heavier and applies more loads to the track structure. The total weight of uCont (a vehicle that carries containers) may reach 40 tons. This must be carefully calculated and the track structure capable of carrying such loads has to be designed. But the chassis of passenger vehicles are similar and that is why the track structure designed for cargo vehicles will accommodate passenger vehicles, but not the opposite.”
There are challenges that need to be overcome before the uSky and uCont pods become viable.
“Many potential customers do not believe in something new,” explains Zaretskiy. “It takes a lot of effort to persuade people to go for something new. The second point that I want to underline is the situation with certification. As we know the certification is produced in relation to certain available standards. But what to do when we want to certify a completely new kind of transport?
“Of course, we work with famous world-known firms to pass through the standardization and certification process, but this takes a lot of time and effort. From my point of view, if the Wright Brothers faced similar bureaucracy when they invented a plane, they would never have a chance to sell their idea to civilization.”
So what’s next for uSky? Can it overcome its existing challenges and make it to market?
“Our UAE project has great worldwide exposure. We understand that people on all continents were waiting for a mobility solution different from what is available now,” says Zaretskiy. “Now our test and certification centre has turned into an attraction point where we see potential customers from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, India, Oman, and many others. We have received many inquiries from the USA, South America, and Africa. And we are open to any inquiry and any cooperation because we are sure that uSky transport technology will have success in any country, region, or area.
“Let’s keep fingers crossed, but we plan to ink the first commercial contract in September or October with the target to launch the first passenger line in Sharjah not later than September 2023,” says Zaretskiy.
However, that contract appears to be just the start of some very bold plans for uSky:
“There is one more project that will come in the Khorfakkan area, but our plan is to spread across the planet and beyond. Maybe the public should know that Dr. Unitsky is the scientist who develops the United Planetary Transport System that will allow humanity to enter space without using expensive and nature-damaging rockets. The string-rail transport will be a part of United Planetary Transport System,” he concluded.
Perhaps the sky isn’t quite the limit for uSky.