New high-speed sky pod unveiled at $14m Sharjah test track

Belarusian inventor needs $230m for 20-kilometre high-speed test line

A high-speed rail pod capable of travelling at 600 kilometres per hour has been unveiled at the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRITP).

The research at the $14 million (Dh51m) site continues as a 20km test track for the high-speed “uFlash” pods is being developed.

A working test track to run the sky pods using Unitsky String Technology (UST) was unveiled in January. The company designed high-speed passenger pods suspended on a track above the desert in Sharjah as a working model to show the potential for string-rail transport.

The pods have already proved successful in wind-tunnel tests, with designers confident a longer track would allow for the further progress of the technology.

Quote
The aerodynamics of this UFlash pod have proved to be extremely efficient. The problem now is to test it at full capacity as we need a track of at least 20km
Dr Anatoli Unitsky

The estimated cost for a longer track is about $230m (Dh845m), though funding is still some way off.

“We need to get land and finances to build a longer test track. We cannot build this at our own expense,” said Dr Anatoli Unitsky, the Belarusian inventor of the system.

“It will cost $230m to build a 20km test track to take the pods up to 500kph. To get to 600kph, it would need to be even longer.”

In Belarus, the company is registered as Unitsky String Technologies while in the UAE it is called USky.

USky pays ground rent to the SITP to continue its testing and hopes to raise funds through private financing to expand the project further.

Development costs have so far been paid by Dr Unitsky and private investment funds, the company said.

The longest test track in Minsk is only 800 metres, where pods have been recorded travelling at a top speed of 108kph.

Dr Unitsky said a power-production platform using renewable energy to fuel the string rail system would send costs spiralling to $580m (Dh2.1bn) and require 250 hectares of land.

Despite that, the project has attracted interest from countries in Europe as well as Saudi Arabia and India, he said.

The UST system can be tailored to support both cargo and passenger logistics.

Its developers said pods suspended on steel rails like the working testing line in Sharjah can move up to 50,000 passengers an hour at speeds approaching 150kph.

Oleg Zaretskiy, chief executive of USky Transport, said those numbers can be achieved at a fraction of the cost of other solutions like high-speed rail, with minimal ecological impact.

“The aerodynamics of this UFlash pod have proved to be extremely efficient,” he said.

“The problem now is to test it at full capacity as we need a track of at least 20km.

“Our next challenge is to find where we can build this.

“Three years ago, people did not believe we could get a working track for the UCar pod, and now it is here [in Sharjah].

“We expect the high-speed string rail to also happen. This is the next stage.”

The Unitsky pods are one of several bids under consideration by Dubai Roads and Transport Authority to develop an elevated transport network in the emirate.

A map released by Dubai Media Office in 2020 showed an aerial link between Al Wasl and Business Bay, extending to cover Dubai International Financial Centre, Bay Avenue, Marasi Drive, City Walk and the Coca-Cola Arena.

Other tenders submitted include the Zhong Tang Sky Railway Group from China and Cabline, from French transport engineers MND.

Costs of the UST project in Dubai have been estimated at between $7-15m per kilometre.

That will include the construction of the track, stations and other infrastructure elements such as a control system and necessary vehicles.

Hussain Al Mahmoudi, chief executive of SRTI Park, said the Unitsky system has the potential to revolutionise mass passenger transport.

“This is a real project, not just a project on paper,” he said.

“It is an achievement just to attract this kind of technology and world class innovation to Sharjah and the UAE.

“I hope this will be a major solution to mobility issues in the Middle East and Africa.”

Updated: November 1st 2021, 11:30 AM
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