Flying Pods And Floating Cities: How Magnetic Levitation Will Revolutionize Transportation

Magnetic Levitation (maglev) is not just a cool name. It’s also the technology of the future.

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For those of you who don’t know, magnetic levitation is a method of suspending objects without any support aside from magnetic fields. Magnetic fields are used to counteract the effects of gravitational acceleration and any other accelerations involved.

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The Maglev train moves along the support path.

There are three processes involved in the working of Maglev.

1) Levitation: The train has to be suspended against gravity without any contact; therefore, opposing magnetic forces between magnets on the train’s bogies and on the guide-way enables it to move without friction slowing it down.

2) Propulsion: In order to propel the train forward, electromagnets are placed on each side of the guide-way. These magnets are energized when the train reaches that particular spot and are de-energized the rest of of time.  Attraction between unlike poles pulls the train, followed by the repulsion, which pushes it forward.

3) Guidance: The propulsion coils are used to guide the train on the guide-way. These coils are placed on either side of the guide-way. The forces from both sides (due to induced EMF) cancel out and thus keep the train on the guide-way.

The way that Maglevs work sounds like a highly physical process, but some of its other applications are very interesting.

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Just imagine the possibilities if this happens.

Currently, Maglev trains are widely used in countries like Japan, China, Germany, the USA, South Korea and Israel. The trains are so stable that a coin resting on its side would remain intact throughout the journey.

Apart from high-speed trains, Maglev has many applications in the future, such as:

Floating Cities

Imagine sitting in a donut-shaped flying saucer. Magnify that by about 5000 and add about one or two hundred buildings to it. Plant twenty to thirty thousand trees and even a few mountains. Top that off with a couple of lakes.  Voila! Your  floating city is ready.

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Landed straight out of a sci-fi movie.

A Chinese architect has already designed a concept titled “Heaven and Earth”, which is basically a moving magnetically levitated island in the sky. It comes equipped with mountains, green forests and urban centers.

The architect has justified this concept by equipping the underside of the donut shaped platform with strong magnets that will repel Earth’s magnetic field. The circular platform can rotate,  generating energy from their spins, thus creating a completely sustainable society.

Yes, the idea seems pretty far-fetched, and it’s likely that the current generation won’t be alive to witness such an event.

Personal Flying Pods

They might not exactly be like the Flying Ford Anglia in Harry Potter: The Chamber of Secrets, but this is somewhat close.

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NASA and SkyTran’s ‘The flying pod’

SkyTran has essentially proposed taking Maglev off the ground.  Suspended on an elevated guide-way, each private pod could carry 3 passengers and could reach a speed of 150 mph. This pod could carry passengers along the route of the guide-way without making any unnecessary stops. If this technology is harnessed, it could lead to a serious dip in road congestion and CO2 emissions.

Space Launch System

NASA has been trying to implement this impressive Maglev technology into their space program for years.

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The idea is to use high-speed Maglev transportation to fling spacecraft into the lower Earth orbit. Their proposed idea includes building a cargo-only launch track at a height of 20,000 feet. The magnets would allow spacecraft to reach a speed of 18,000 mph. However, the whole setup would cost an astronomical amount of $20 billion! I don’t know… sounds like it would be worth a shot!

Efficient Wind Power

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Magnetically levitated wind turbine

The rate of conversion of wind energy into usable power by standard wind turbines is only 1%. The high losses occur mainly due to friction, which occurs as the turbines spin. Researchers have estimated that magnetically levitated turbines could boost up that wind power generation up to 20%

Maglev technology is definitely one to watch out for in the future. It will provide a noise-free environment, have a low maintenance cost, and will be relatively inexpensive to operate.

Watch this train break the world record for the fastest passenger train:

 

References:

  1. Maglev – Wikipedia
  2. SkyTran – Wikipedia
  3. NASA
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About the Author:

Ishan is a Mechanical Engineer from Mumbai University, India and is obsessed with science, food and all things football. He is a self proclaimed cyclist, runner and a professional procrastinator.

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