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An out-of-this-world transportation plan lands in Edmonton

EDMONTON – Meet George Jetson.

Actually, his name is Dan Corns. He lives in Edmonton, not Orbit City.

But the 34-year-old is the founder of a company that holds patents, and very high hopes indeed, for magnetic levitation technology that would propel real-world transportation into the animated realm of the cartoon character Jetson, his boy Elroy, daughter Judy and Jane, his wife, circa 2062.

Magnovate Technologies proposes to move people, freight and commodities, like oilsands bitumen, along an elevated track at speeds of up to 500 kilometres per hour in computer-controlled, driverless vehicles.

The trip from Calgary to Edmonton would take less than 45 minutes.

Making the leap of faith necessary to accept Corns’ vision will take some people much longer.

“There are some people who write it off as science fiction, immediately. But science fiction is turning into science fact. When you mention ideas like this in Silicon Valley, people don’t start humming The Jetsons,” Corns said.

He said his small company — it employs a five-person executive team and six engineers in Canada, the U.S. and Australia — raised $2 million from a Silicon Valley venture capital firm to produce prototypes of its proprietary Magline vehicle and track, which were built in Santa Barbara, Calif. The vehicle is powered by a linear motor and essentially floats about five centimetres above a track formed by connected, permanent magnets.

Corns said Magnovate’s patented passive switching technology makes it possible for vehicles to pull off the main line and into a station, then resume the trip.

“It allows maglev to finally fulfil its promise. It allows complete networks of maglev to be built,” Corns said.

Maglev systems already operating in China and Japan do not have that capability. Corns’ proposal also calls for a wider levitation gap that would reduce impact on the track and support structures, which could be manufactured out of less robust material than first-generation concrete, and would therefore be less expensive.

“This is potentially game-changing technology,” said Alex Conradi, director of investment with the emerging markets branch of International and Intergovernmental Relations.

“Certainly, we’ve seen Mr. (Elon) Musk’s Hyperloop in the press of late. Quite frankly, I think this one is closer to being real than his. But never say never.”

Musk, the co-founder of electric vehicle maker Tesla, recently proposed a transportation system between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It shares Magnovate’s use of a linear motor, but the Hyperloop vehicles would move on a cushion of air inside a sealed tube.

Conradi set up meetings in Bahrain between Corns and representatives of the Gulf Co-operative Council, which is comprised of Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. Conradi said those countries are determined to upgrade transportation linkages to create a more unified market.
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