The definition of a developed city is not the number of personal vehicles its inhabitants own but the strength of its public transport. In a country like India which aspires to build more and more smart cities, the development of a strong public transport network powered by clean energy becomes all the more important. It is with this in mind that the Indian government has been looking at technology to provide a solution that combines speed, solar energy, and efficient transportation. It comes as no surprise that Bengaluru, a city that is quite frequently referred to as the tech capital of India, has been chosen to host the first Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system in the country.
Introducing Pod Cabs
The Personal Rapid Transit system is a Provide-On-Demand (Pod) which is a driver-less (automatic) taxi, runs on an elevated track and is controlled centrally. It quite resembles a cable car but is a very technologically advanced system of transport, using magnetic forces to move the capsules through low pressure tubes. The destination may be selected from a number of preset options. Bengaluru’s Workbench Projects has been chosen to partner with Hyperloop India to build a pod prototype that could get selected for global implementation. Pod cabs are currently available in London for visitors to travel from Heathrow airport to any of the London Underground (Tube) stations.
Hyperloop One Global Challenge (HOGC)
Hyperloop is a Los Angeles based company that is working to make the pod Personal Rapid Transit system a reality. Five teams from India were shortlisted for the construction of the pod in the global challenge thrown by the company in May 2016. These five companies – AECOM, Dinclix GroundWorks, Hyperloop India, Infi-Alpha, and LUX Hyperloop Network – are among the 35 shortlisted from 2600 entries (coming in from 90 countries of the world). Apart from the two showcase events of the Global Challenge held in Washington DC and London, one was held in New Delhi in February this year signifying India’s importance.
Of the 35 companies shortlisted and the 5 Indian entries chosen, Hyperloop India’s OrcaPod has shown most promise and is now set to be tested in a vacuum tube facility belonging to SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. Hyperloop India team consists of about 80 students from some of India’s premier institutions including BITS Pilani and IIM Ahmedabad.
Testing Ground India
Both Hyperloop One and its main competitor Hyperloop Transport Technologies (HTT) seem to be focusing on India as the ideal testing ground. HTT representatives had met PM Narendra Modi and various ministers. There was some news about testing the pods in Gurgaon but given the new partnership between Hyperloop India and Workbench Projects it now looks likely that these pod cabs may now be tested in Bengaluru. In fact, the main municipal corporation of the city, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), has even shortlisted six different routes adding up to over 35 kilometres where these pod cabs can be implemented.
While the idea of implementing pod cabs is a wonderful one, there are a number of challenges that must be encountered before it becomes a reality. Funding is one of the greatest questions to be answered. BBMP is already cash strapped and is combating a number of issues such as pollution and poor waste management systems. Will pod cabs be practical given the great population our country supports? Another very important challenge that must be faced is the construction of supporting infrastructure in Indian conditions.
The dream of a pod cab is a beautiful one and we hope to see it translate into Bengaluru’s reality soon.