Asia’s richest man Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani has acquired a huge chunk of US-based pod taxis skyTran in a bid to compete with the world’s second-richest man Elon Musk and his Hyperloop project. Hyperloop and skyTran are in the business of making and operating pod taxis. Pod taxi is essentially a personal rapid transit (PRT). Pod taxis or PRT is a short to medium-distance transport facility that features automated vehicles operating on a specially built track.
Over the last few years, Mukesh Ambani has been proactively diversifying Reliance Industries Limited’s business. He has done this with telecom (Jio), partnering with the likes of Facebook and Microsoft to bring a new payment network, and recently, with investing his capital in creating the world’s largest zoo and rehabilitation center. The salt-to-software conglomerate is also restructuring a core part of its business, transiting from the conventional energy businesses to new renewable space.
Mukesh Ambani’s skyTran acquisition comes after his investing in the company three years ago through the Reliance Strategic Business ventures. Ambani not only didn’t announce an increased shareholding in skyTran but also announced that his company will be making batteries for electric vehicles. This proves that Ambani’s priorities have also seen a change, and has now put him in battle with Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
In his statement, Mukesh Ambani said, “Our acquiring majority equity stake in skyTran reflects our commitment to investing in building futuristic technologies that would transform the world.”
“We are excited by skyTran’s potential to achieve an order of magnitude impact on highspeed intra and inter-city connectivity and its ability to provide a high speed, highly efficient and economical ‘Transportation-As-A-Service’ platform for India and the Rest of the World. We firmly believe that a non-polluting high-speed personal rapid transportation system will help facilitate environmental sustainability through efficient use of alternative energy and make an impactful reduction in air and noise pollution,” Mr. Ambani added.
skyTran is a US-based company that is in the business of creating smart commuting solutions. RIL acquired the company for 26.76 million and increased its shareholding to 56.46%. skyTran has created a breakthrough technology of “passive magnetic levitation and propulsion” through which personal transportation can be transformed and traffic congestion issues can be solved.
The skyTran system consists of computer-controlled passenger pods (taxis) that will run on its proprietary Passive Magnetic Levitation Technology (PMLT). According to the company, “it would use cutting edge IT, Telecom, loT and Advanced Materials technologies to transport passengers in a fast, safe, green, and economical manner.” In a nutshell, skyTran has put its research and capital into creating a driverless personal commuting system that will run on a predetermined track.
Both Hyperloop and skyTran pods harness the law of magnetism to run on tracks that can help them reach the speed of 240 km/h. Hyperloop has 3 projects in India. One of their projects two major hubs of Maharashtra: Pune and Mumbai. Another increases connectivity to Bangalore Airport and the last one connects the national capital New Delhi to Chandigarh.
Musk-owned Hyperloop works with various state governments across the countries it wants to introduce its projects in. In its pursuit to bring Hyperloop to India, it collaborated with the Maharashtra government to plan and construct the world’s first commercial Hyperloop corridor that will run from Pune and Mumbai.
Pod taxi is a relatively new idea that was introduced by Nitin Gadkari in 2016, Minister of Road Transport and Highways. In 2017, a NITI Aayog thinktank cleared the ministry’s proposal of testing 3 rapid transport systems in India. The short-listed companies that the Indian government planned to collaborate with were: skyTran, Ultra Global PRT and Metrino PRT.
It should be noted that skyTran will compete directly with Elon Musk’s Hyperloop as the latter is also engaged in making high-speed, driverless, non-polluting commuting system. Both Hyperloop and skyTran focus on inter and intra city transport for regular travelers. With increasing traffic and congestion in India, skyTran could help India achieve a seamless mode of transportation in the near future.
Additionally, Mukesh owned and headed Reliance also announced that it will make batteries for electric vehicles. This can be considered another indication that it will be directly competing with Musk’s Tesla which creates electric vehicles. It should be noted that this announcement came a month after Tesla announced that it will enter the Indian markets and manufacture in the country. It could be inferred that since the Indian government is now welcoming companies that promote green energy, Reliance wants to lead the race.