Japanese research could herald transport breakthrough

A clean sustainable form of transport could be on the way – hovering! Japanese scientists have successfully trialled “hover shoes” that could provide clean transport around cities and work complexes. […]

Register now!

By Sumit Bose

A clean sustainable form of transport could be on the way – hovering!

Japanese scientists have successfully trialled “hover shoes” that could provide clean transport around cities and work complexes. Sounding like something out of a movie, the magneto kinetic resistance propulsion uses a thin magnetic strip embedded in pavement stones to push against a mini magnet embedded in shoes so the walker literally floats along. The technology has been adapted from the maglev system used in Japan to power trains on the Tobo Kyuryo Line in Aichi which has been operating since 2005.

Although the technology based simply on two magnetic fields repelling each other is decades old, no one till now has found a way of commercialising the system on a small scale.

Mr Shigatsu Baka from the Fuuru Institute in Kanagawa Science Park, situated outside Tokyo said the miniaturising process had been very difficult.

He told ELN:”Every child knows magnets repel each other and so can make things float and we have had trains doing this for a few years but we have made it economically viable on a personal scale.

“We created a nano technology which means we can spray a fine magnetic polymer coating onto a thin strip only 1cm across that can be laid under thin paving slabs. The shoes have a tiny coating of the same polymer and we then just apply a voltage of opposing polarity to the two and the person can hover or in reality walk with no resistance.”

So far the hover shoes have been trialled in a special area of the science park to great success. The walkers need a few minutes to get used to walking a cm off the ground but many say it feels very similar to skating or skiing.

Yasui Damasara a research student who has been using the shoes along a two km section of the test circuit said they provided effortless transport: “They feel funny at first but are easy to get used to. The shoes are normal but you wear a little battery pack to power the current and that’s it, switch on and you go.

“You kick off with one foot and then slide along. You can climb up a slope too and the best thing is there is no weight bearing so you can go for a long time without getting tired.”

The test circuit has proved so successful the Japanese government is considering a public trial of the system over a 25km route around Kanagawa. The technology has been patented but Mr Baka said its simplicity means it is incredibly affordable.

“We need more testing but I think if we lay the polymer coating on an industrial scale it will cost no more than 10,000¥ (£70) per 25m of track so it is very reasonable and comparable to normal paving and road surfaces. I think with the right backing we could have many cities with these circuits by 2020.”

The beauty of the system is it can be applied to any shoe with a rubber sole said Mr Baka. The power to the track currently comes from a green source the science park’s solar array but as it runs at such low voltages (75V) it can be provided at low cost from any supply.

Mr Baka believes it could change everything: “We could have no need for escalators or mopeds or taxis as the shoes could let you travel very fast over a few kilometres so we could save much in emissions and infrastructure costs. I believe with backing we can make this the way to move around city centres all over the world where things are congested.”