If you’ve ever imagined a future filled with flying cars, your dream might be getting a little closer to reality.
Chinese researchers from Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu, Sichuan province, conducted road tests last week for modified passenger cars that use magnets to float 35 millimeters above a conductor rail, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
The researchers fitted the sedans with powerful magnets on the vehicle floors, allowing them to levitate on a conductor rail almost eight kilometers long. A total of eight cars were tested, with one test reaching speeds of around 143 miles per hour, according to the report.
A video posted on Twitter by a Chinese journalist shows the vehicles floating – albeit bumpy – along the track:
Xinhua said the tests were carried out by government transport authorities to study safety measures for high-speed driving. But Deng Zigang, one of the university professors who developed the vehicles, told the state news agency that using magnetic levitation for passenger vehicles has the potential to reduce energy consumption. and increase vehicle autonomy.
This could be useful for the electric vehicle industry‘s “range anxiety” issues or when consumers are concerned that they won’t be able to take a trip in an electric vehicle without running out of power.
Some commercial trains have used magnetic levitation, or “maglev” – which involves electrifying a magnetic field to push or pull vehicles at high speeds – since the 1980s. China, Japan and South Korea all use today maglev trains. Last year, China launched a high-speed Maglev train in Qingdao, Shandong province, which can reach a top speed of 373 miles per hour.
Theoretically, maglev technology allows high-speed travel without using as much energy as traditional motor power due to a lack of friction. The technology has been proposed for the hyperloop projects of Elon Musk’s The Boring Company and Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One. Researchers have been exploring the potential of maglev cars for more than a decade, with Volkswagen designing a concept hover car in 2012.
But potential security issues still need to be addressed. For example, what happens if a speeding car floats off its magnetic track or is knocked over by a non-magnetic vehicle? There’s also the very difficult issue of infrastructure: building a nationwide network of electromagnetic highways would likely take years and massive public investment in any country, notes the AutomoBlog.
The challenges could be worth overcoming: An “age of magnetism” could revolutionize the energy industry and help fight climate change, according to a 2018 LinkedIn post by George Sassine, vice president of the State Energy Research and Development Authority of New York.
“Although it sounds like science fiction, this could very well be our everyday life 50 years from now,” he wrote.
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