Move over maglev — there’s a new high-speed train in town. Japanese engineers have just unveiled a prototype vehicle that flies rather than rolling. The design is decidedly lower tech than maglev trains — the Aero Train uses wings attached to a fuselage to literally fly inches off the ground. Dubbed a “ground-effect vehicle” the train is designed to be completely powered by wind and solar energy — making this a true zero-carbon transportation system.
The first prototype has just been unveiled at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics in Shanghai, China. The flying vehicle is robotically controlled and uses three sets of wings and a pair of electric propellers to create lift. This video shows the craft in action — it’s a bit wobbly as the vehicle needs to control yaw, pitch and roll. Since the train hovers above the ground it benefits from a dramatic reduction in drag at higher speeds, and thus less energy is needed to maintain momentum.
The design calls for the trains to be set inside a U-shaped channel, which controls wind and helps to steady the crafts. The developers imagine a tunnel capped with solar panels that directly feeds the batteries and electric propellers. They even throw in some wind generators to demonstrate the full potential of harvesting renewable energy.
The second phase calls for the development of a manned craft that is powered by batteries. After that they are looking to create a fully autonomous two-person craft with a top speed of 200kph. Taken to its logical conclusions, the project may lead to huge floating vehicles crossing the countryside using only renewable energy and a puff of air.