Reliance Industries Ltd is set to finalize the site for India’s first pod taxi prototype. The pod taxi prototype announced last week is being designed as the next generation transportation system. The Pod Taxi is a driver-less personal rapid transit system developed by Reliance in collaboration with SkyTran. This new transportation system will run alongside a predetermined course either using a overhead suspension or magnetic levitation.
According to a report by Livemint, the prototype will be built at the place decided by Reliance. After successful pilot and subsequent trial runs, Reliance will have to get into separate agreements with both state and central governments to set up infrastructure. “For the prototype, some bits will be imported from the US, while most of it will be made in India. In return, Reliance will help SkyTran with multiple technologies to run the pod taxi, including communication technology, which is an important part of the deal,” a person familiar with the deal told the newspaper.
Reliance Industrial Investments and Holdings Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of RIL, acquired a 12.7 percent stake in SkyTran, a US-based technology company last week. Livemint notes that the investment was made through stock financing and Reliance has an option to further invest up to $25 million in convertible notes once the board of SkyTran approves.
Apart from Reliance, SkyTran has investments from Eric Schmidt, the former executive chairman of Google and American capital investor Timothy Cook Draper. The company has partnerships with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
Reliance, Eric Schmidt and Timothy are said to have around 35-40 percent combined stake in SkyTran. “The ballpark number will be Rs 100 crore per km for bi-directional lines, which will include a reasonable number of vehicles,” said another person familiar with the deal. The person also added that SkyTran is valued at single-digit billion dollars without revealing exact figure.
Union Minister for road transport and highways, Nitin Gadkari, propelled the idea of pod taxis in India in 2016. The ministry’s proposal to test three rapid transport systems using pod taxis was cleared by a NITI Aayog panel in January 2017. Ultra Global PRT, SkyTran and Metrino PRT were the three companies in the fray initially.
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Ultra Global is the only company whose rapid transport technology has been tested and is already in commercial use. SkyTran’s pod taxis, on the other hand, run on its own passive magnetic levitation technology while Metrino relies on pods suspended from overhead rails. SkyTran’s technology is in testing stage while Metrino has developed a prototype that was being tested in 2007. However, Metrino dropped out of its project in India with a local partner after failing to get funds.
These projects have received approval on the condition that these technologies would be first piloted on a 1km stretch and if successful, the test could be extended to 15-20km stretch. The Niti Aayog panel said that these pod taxi transport system is consumed much less energy than conventional modes of transport.