This artist rendering shows the SkyTran system in action in Tel Aviv. (All photos: SkyTran)

Flying cars are almost here at last, and their first stop is Tel Aviv

SkyTran CEO Jerry Sanders says his new elevated transit system is going to transform transportation.

They said we’d all be cruising around in flying cars one day.

Has that day finally come? According to Jerry Sanders, the answer is yes.

Sanders is CEO of SkyTran, a California-based, NASA-affiliated company that’s developed an elevated, levitating and totally Jetson-esque transit system. And he’s chosen Tel Aviv, home of the campus of Israel Aerospace Industries, to test it out. It's all part of a bigger plan to build a large-scale, commercial network in Tel Aviv and other urban areas around the world – creating what Sanders calls a "breakthrough" for the entire transportation industry. 

The system, in its test form, consists of a series of two-person vehicles suspended from magnetic-levitation tracks, reaching speeds of 43 mph on a 500-meter loop. SkyTran plans to complete the test site by late 2015. The hope is that the pilot will lead to a rollout of SkyTran systems all over the world, including the United States.

Once SkyTran becomes commercially available, customers will be able to call up a car on their phones to pick them up at a specific station and take them where they need to go. Sanders said the cars will go much faster than 43 mph once they're out of the test stage.

Yosef Melamed, a director for Israel Aerospace Industries, called IAI's partnership with SkyTran "an exciting moment in transportation history."

IAI will play a major role in getting the system ready for commercial implementation, Melamed said. "The evaluation process will incorporate IAI's advanced capabilities in the areas of engineering, robotics and control," he said.

So why flying cars?

Simply put, “to avoid congestion,” Sanders told From the Grapevine. He believes traffic congestion is the No. 1 transportation problem worldwide. “Congestion breeds pollution, stress and disease,” he added.

SONY DSC Jerry Sanders poses next to a SkyTran.

And, more important, how does it work?

"In a nutshell, it provides levitation as a by-product of propulsion," said Sanders. "That's why it is such a green system, using but a fraction of the energy required to operate other systems."

Sanders said locating his pilot program in Tel Aviv was an easy choice. "Israelis love technology," he said. "Tel Aviv is the center of Israel's high tech ... it was ranked as one of the top three cities in the world by the Wall Street Journal."

SkyTran car Artist rendering shows the interior of the two-seater SkyTran car, fitted with an interactive tablet.

Sanders' enthusiasm for the project is palpable, though he acknowledged it has taken a long time – almost 25 years – to get this technology off the ground, so to speak.

The first rumblings of an elevated car system date back to 1990 and are attributed to Douglas Malewicki, a rocket scientist and alumnus of the NASA Apollo mission. He proposed a personal rapid-transit system featuring two-person pods hanging from elevated  tracks. He went on to found SkyTran and spent years trying to market his system.

"As in many high-tech developments, the concept advanced the available technology," Sanders explained. "So a lot of the work consisted of waiting until the technology required to bring the vision to reality was fully developed. This takes time."

So, to allay the skeptics, he advises only this: "Sit back and watch."

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