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The Future of Transport is a Flying Pod

Were you stuck in traffic again? Tired of subway delays on your commute to work? Mike Stanley, Founder and CEO of Transit X, wants to radically change the way you think about transportation.

Transit X has designed an automated network of pods suspended from tracks that can carry up to five passengers, a wheelchair, or freight. The tracks take the path of existing roads and highways to stay in line with a city’s existing infrastructure. Passengers can easily board at frequent stops by requesting their destination via a smartphone or kiosk.

Transit X was selected as a Solver in our Carbon Contributions Challenge, and now Transit X is gearing up for a demonstration on MIT’s campus this spring. In the meantime, check out this week’s Solver story on Mike Stanley, the CEO and Founder of Transit X. We had a chance to sit down for a Q&A with Mike to learn more about Transit X—and to find out when commuting by pod will finally become a reality.

Q: Tell us your story: How did you first become interested in the work you do?

A: I've always loved solving problems and building things. My mother recently shared an old photograph of me in my crib asleep next to all my Tinker Toy rods that I had lined up and organized by color. By the age of 12, I was already working on my second autonomous robot that supported voice recognition and synthesis in 1983.

I came to MIT to study Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. After taking a few classes in the business school, I decided to major in both business and engineering. After graduating, I worked for a series of software startups, digital marketing agencies, and also did some independent consulting.

Q: Did you have a turning point moment that inspired you to think differently about your work?

A: I started Transit X in 2015 after a series of devastating snow storms in Boston shut down the transportation system and my wife was forced to walk home--in several feet of snow! My goal was to get her to and from work safely, but obviously Transit X became much more than that.

Q: What is the problem you’re trying to solve and how are you trying to solve it?

A: The problem is an aging and inefficient transportation network. We aim to supplant cars, buses, trains, and trucks. To do this, we will create personal mass transit networks using flying solar pods. It combines the efficiency of rail with the convenience of cars.

Q: What is unique about your solution?

A: Transportation infrastructure is typically very expensive, and Transit X uniquely provides infrastructure that is low cost to governments and passengers alike, largely because of private funding. Municipalities provide right-of-way along existing streets for the poles to support tracks, and private funding constructs and operates the system, charging a per-mile fee much lower than that of ridesharing services.

Transit X has an extremely high capacity to replace mass transit by serving both the smallest towns and the largest cities around the world. Since the system is automated, redundant, and has grade separation, it is crash free. Finally, the pods can provide last mile service consistently and conveniently.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge or barrier your solution faces?

A: The power of the status quo. Municipalities underestimate the risks they currently accept, and overestimate the risk of something different or new. Climate change and infrastructure maintenance pose high risks to municipalities, and we need them to understand that Transit X is a lower risk option.

Q: Who will your solution impact?

A: Our goal is to rapidly decarbonize half of the world's transportation within 15 years. This would impact nearly every person on the planet as transportation impacts health, jobs, housing, and the climate.

Q: What do you think the Solve community can uniquely bring to solving your challenge?

A: MIT Solve can help bring credibility and validation to promising ideas that could solve seemingly insurmountable problems.

Q: What’s next for Transit X?

A: We’ll be demo’ing a test track at MIT this year, and we started our first project in the Philippines. A city outside Manila signed an agreement that enables Transit X to build a city-wide network on municipal rights-of-way. Other cities will soon follow and our first system should be operational by the end of 2018.

Founder and CEO Mike Stanley pitches Transit X during Solve at the United Nations. (Photo by Adam Schultz / MIT Solve)

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