Creator of autonomous flying ‘pods’ wants to bring them to RI

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BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) – A Massachusetts entrepreneur believes he has the solution to the world’s traffic woes, and it just so happens to come in the form of a “flying” pod.

Mike Stanley is the man behind Transit X, which recently responded to the R.I. Department of Transportation’s request for proposals to create the state’s first autonomous public transit system.

Records show three other companies responded to that RFP: May Mobility of Michigan, Transdev Services Inc. of Illinois, and First Transit Inc. of Ohio. Their websites indicate they’re all in the business of autonomous buses and shuttles.

But Transit X is taking a different route.

Stanley, an MIT graduate, has designed a system of “pods” that glide along a track suspended 14 feet above the ground. The system is solar-powered, and Stanley says it’s also eco-friendly. The lightweight pods, made out of carbon fiber, are whisked along at 45 mph by batteries and a motor. The pods can carry four to five people, or cargo.

Stanley said he plans to demonstrate a working prototype in Leominster, Massachusetts, on Monday.

“It’s ‘The Jetsons,’ just with a track,” Stanley told Eyewitness News.

In Stanley’s vision, riders would hail the pods much like they do an Uber car. Passengers would enter their destination on an app and hail a pod by waving at it and making eye contact. Stanley says each vehicle would be outfitted with facial recognition technology. Once hailed, the pod would drop from the lofted track to a ground-level boarding pad and whisk the passenger away.

“It already knows where you’re going,” explained Stanley, who said passengers would have the option to pre-program an address or enter one into the pod’s touchscreen. The touchscreen would also display advertisements, which could be a source of revenue for the project.

Stanley’s creation has already caught the attention of local leaders in Henry County, Georgia, where a county manager signed a memorandum of understanding expressing interest in Transit X, according to local news reports. Stanley said he also has international interest.

The product is being made in Rhode Island. Matt Dunham started Clear Carbon and Composites in his house in the 1990s. Now he has 20 employees and a workshop in Bristol that caters to a range of clients including boaters, musicians, the military and, as of now, Transit X.

Dunham said Stanley came to his company earlier this year with a vision to build an ultra-lightweight vehicle – they made the 75-pound pod prototype out of carbon fiber. If Stanley’s vision takes off, Dunham said the manufacturing possibilities would be terrific for him and for Rhode Island. 

The Department of Transportation said the solicitation period for their autonomous public transit RFP, or “TRIP Mobility Challenge,” is still open, and they plan to award a contract in the next month.

Stanley isn’t getting his hopes up. 

“I thought that they weren’t looking for something like this,” he said. “They were basically looking for autonomous buses and shuttles.”

Stanley submitted his idea anyway, pointing to a line in the RFP that says RIDOT is open to other ideas. He said Transit X could be the solution for congestion, emissions and crashes that the state didn’t know it was looking for. Plus, with a private investment firm covering the estimated $400 million price tag of his proposed Rhode Island project, he said it wouldn’t cost the state a dime. 

“Nothing for the capital costs, and nothing for the operations,” Stanley said. “Then [the state’s] biggest risk is just continuing with the status quo. We represent the lowest risk option for Rhode Island.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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