Thinking Tech

Next generation high-speed rail: trains that fly

Next generation high-speed rail: trains that fly

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A ground-effect train, works similarly to a Meglev train excepts it floats on a cushion of air that reduces wind drag.

Much has been made about the technology behind Meglev trains and its potential to revolutionize high-speed transportation. But even those futuristic darlings, which can travel at speeds of up to 361 miles per hour, are susceptible to the slowing effects of wind drag.

Now a group of researchers at Tohoku University in Japan believe they've discovered a way around this aerodynamic inefficiency and, oddly enough, it involves slapping on some wings.

This technology, known as a ground-effect train, works similarly to a Meglev train in that it's designed to levitate across a fixed track, an approach that eliminates the problem of railway friction. However the difference is that it accomplishes this by floating on a cushion of air that propels it forward instead of the strong force of an electromagnetic field, which contributes to the drag effect whenever a Meglev is moving at slower speeds.

They've even built a robot prototype that's currently being tested, but as you can see from the video, the technology has its own inefficiencies to overcome. Since the vehicle operates more like an aircraft than a train, researchers still need to figure out how to build an autonomous three axis stabilization system that can handle the pitch, roll, and yaw-type maneuvering of flying vehicles.

Eventually, the researchers hope to scale up the model to a manned train capable of speeds of 200 kilometers per hour and test it in a more controlled track. The team's ultimate goal is to somehow incorporate the technology into a large commuter rail system called the Aero Train, which is depicted above.

Obviously, it'll probably take a while -- if it ever does happen.

Test footage of robotic ground effects prototypes:

(via IEEE Spectrum)

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure