RIL Chairman and Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani has decided to lock horns with SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk – the world’s richest billionaire.
Ambani, via RIL subsidiary Reliance Strategic Business Ventures has recently acquired a U.S. based Hyperloop-rival transportation firm called ‘skyTran’. Reliance Industries initially invested in the company three years ago.
Both Hyperloop and skyTran develop pod taxis, also called personal rapid transit aka PRT. These are small automated vehicles that operate on a special network of magnetic tracks.
Pod taxis can theoretically move at speeds reaching up to 240km per hour by using the power of magnets.
Currently, Hyperloop has already bagged three projects in India. – one for covering the distance from Mumbai to Pune, another to increase connectivity of Bangalore International Airport to the rest of the city and the latest venture to connect Chandigarh to New Delhi.
“skyTran has developed breakthrough passive magnetic levitation and propulsion technology for implementing personal transportation systems aimed at solving the problem of traffic congestion globally,” said Reliance in its regulatory filing.
This news comes days after Ambani announced he will be making batteries for electric vehicles ahead of the EV-boom resonating with Tesla’s entry in India. In the previous month, Musk’s Tesla announced it will be setting up a factory in Karnataka while their office is already set up in Bangalore.
skyTran vs Hyperloop: Battle Begins
In 2016, the Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari first introduced the idea of pod taxis in India. A year after, a panel headed by NITI Aayog which is the GOI’s policy think tank cleared the ministry’s proposal to test three PRT systems wherein the shortlisted candidates were – New Zealand based Metrino PRT, UK-based Ultra Global PRT and US-based skyTran.
Of the three, only skyTran uses magnetic levitation for the mobility of the pod taxis- making it the direct competitor of Hyperloop’s prospects in India.
Hyperloop didn’t go after the central government in India to seek approval. Instead, it directly went to state governments for working on projects. As mentioned earlier, currently it has three big projects underway in the country, all in different states. Last year, in the month of November, Hyperloop had a massive breakthrough as it was able to successfully carry two individuals through a tube in one of their pod taxis at 160 km per hour.
The only key difference between Hyperloop and skyTran is regarding the application of their technology. While Hyperloop is designed for travelling longer distances, skyTran is focusing majorly on intra-city transport only.
In October 2018, Reliance acquired 12.7% of skyTran. Later in November 2019, it raised its stake to 17.37%. By the month of April in the last year, Reliance further upped their investment which shot up their stake into skyTran to 26.3%.
Currently’ RIL’ stake in skyTran sits at 54.46% which it acquired for an additional $26.76 million.
All in all, by acquiring skyTran, it seems like Ambani has blown the war bugle to compete again Musk’s Hyperloop. It now remains to be seen how does the future pan out regarding the same. Stay tuned for more updates.