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Plane crazy: Levitating train takes off

  • Plane-train concept unveiled
  • Levitates on cushion of air
  • Could transform the way we travel

  • Plane-train
    Plane-train concept the future of travel? Picture: Tohoku University
    The concept uses fast-moving air and its wings to levitate. Picture: Tohoku University

    A NEW robotic plane-train that floats on a cushion of air is set to transform 
    the way we travel, according to researchers.  A scale model of the futuristic
    vehicle has been unveiled at the International Conference on Robotics and
    Automation in Shanghai, China. Scroll down for video
    It is essentially a plane - with wings, propellers and a tail - that can
    levitate just centimetres above the ground - essentially a hovercraft.
    However the twist is that it's planned to be put into use as a train.
    The concept uses fast-moving air and its stubby wings to levitate
    and will be capable of reaching speeds of up to 200kmh.
    It will be challenging to operate as it will have to be controlled
    more like a plane than a train, meaning researchers have to deal
    with pitch, roll and yaw (rotation) as well as the throttle.
    High-speeds trains are hugely popular in Asia but researchers
    - led by Tohoku University assistant professor Yusuke Sugahara
    have taken a new approach with this concept.
    While it will not be as fast as some high-speed trains already
    in operation, such as Shanghai's 581kmh Maglev train or
    Japan's 300kmh "Hayabusa" bullet train, it promises better efficiency.

    Instead of fighting the ground-effect principle - the aerodynamic
    drag effect a plane may experience while flying close to the ground –
    it embraces it by using the fast-moving air underneath for propulsion,
    such as the famous Russian Ekranoplan did.
    While there are already trains that can move without the friction that
    leads to lost energy, they are not as efficient as this prototype will be.
    This is because the trains, such as the Maglev, use electromagnets to
    levitate above the track, which minimise friction but still slow them
    down due to the drag between the train and track.
    Still very much a work in progress, footage of the model shows it
    wobbling down a runway when it reaches high speeds, however
    researchers are planning on building a larger, manned prototype.
    A question that has not been answered is how passengers will be
    able to board the plane-train.
    While still in development stages, Tohuko University hopes the
    same design will be used to build a real commuter train called
    the Aero Train (pictures above) that will travel in a
     "U-shaped concrete channel".

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