The first road test for magnetic levitation (maglev) vehicles has been conducted by engineers representing China’s Southwest Jiaotong University.
First reported by the state-run news agency, Xinhua Daily, the university research unit raised a near 2.8-tonne sedan 25 millimetres off the ground and propelled the vehicle down a test track by way of electromagnets.
China is a world-leader in maglev technology and has incorporated the system into its high-speed rail network, including the 430-kilometre-per-hour Shanghai Transrapid, which runs between Pudong International Airport and Longyang Road Station on the limits of Pudong City.
The research team, headed by Jiaotong University professor, Deng Zigang, modified the family sedan by installing permanent electromagnets on the vehicle’s undercarriage.
The car was guided by a set of electromagnetically charged rails on an isolated strip of tarmac along the Gaochun-Xuancheng Expressway in Jiangsu.
Deng and his team are able to get the heavy car off the ground and move it forward because one set of electromagnets is responsible for creating lift, while the other set, in this case, the guided rails, pushes the sedan along the designated track.
The absence of electromagnetic charge outside the perimeter created by the fixed rails ensures the vehicle stays along the desired path.
Overseen by state transport authorities, the test track measured eight kilometres long and, according to the Xinhua report, one of the test vehicles clocked an impressive 215 kilometres per hour, illustrating that the floating, flying cars don’t lack zip.
A successful early proof of concept test such as this provides the research team with a great deal of information for future experiments, offering a glimpse into what maglev cars could look like in China, the professor explained.
While maglev is nowhere near as developed as the battery-electric and electric vehicle (EV) industries, it does require significantly less energy to operate, potentially alleviating the range anxiety often reported amongst EV users.
Floating vehicles are more efficient than their more traditional counterparts because there is no friction between the road surface and the vehicle’s wheels.
China is one of several major world powers that has toyed with the concept for several decades. Japan, South Korea and China all host high-speed maglev rail networks.
Elon Musk’s hyperloop project, The Boring Company, and Richard Branson’s Hyperloop One, have explored and considered the technology. In 2012, German-based Volkswagen created a concept car with similar design principles.
Deng and his team plan to address the development and construction of a vehicle more specialised for the task. The prototype is essentially just a modified family saloon, the report detailed.