Colorado-based Swift Tram Wins NASA Transportation Contest

Oct 15, 2013

NASA TechBriefs has announced its 2013 Create the Future contest winners. Boulder-based Swift Tram has won the top honor in the Transportation and Automotive category.

“Swift is a provider of automated people movers, or APMs,” said CEO Carl Lawrence. “Our first product, the SwiftAPM 100, will be available in 2016. The system uses suspended coaches hanging from a fixed guideway tube, a technology that offers highly energy efficient and cost effective rapid transit, along with high passenger comfort. Suspended coaches have been in use for more than a century. The concept is enjoying a rebirth due to modern issues of traffic congestion, skyrocketing rapid transit costs, and limited transit right-of-way.”

"We're very pleased that NASA has recognized the importance of our innovative technology," said Lawrence. He cited the continuing buildout of additional lanes of highway, and transit projects like bus rapid transit (BRT), as incremental improvements that often disappoint as solutions for mobility in crowded urban and regional environments.

"We're developing strategic partnerships with global firms in the business of design, construction, electricity management, advanced manufacturing, finance, and renewable energy, in order to offer our customers complete turnkey high-speed solutions in the people-moving and light freight markets," said Lawrence. "Our first offering, though, is a simple automated circulator, similar conceptually to those used at airports and resorts. We’ll build our test and certification system in 2015, here in Colorado."

Lawrence said he’s interested in keeping the business based in Colorado, but acknowledged that financing opportunities and projects on the coasts are also creating interesting possibilities. "Fortunately, we're attracting technical talent at the University of Colorado, NREL, and in Colorado's cleantech business community," he said. "We're also hopeful that Colorado's new Advanced Industries initiative will help us to complete our company's expansion in-state." Lawrence, a serial entrepreneur in electric transportation, is best known in Colorado for providing the nation's first hybrid-electric bus fleet for Denver 's 16th Street mall.

"Swift Tram is a great example of cooperation between industry and research universities," said Caroline Himes, Director of the Office of Industry Collaboration at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "The company is jump-starting activity in software, robotics, advanced materials, electronics, and steelworks that promotes a genuine 'cluster' of self-reinforcing innovation, economic development, and regional prosperity."

Asked how Swift compares to Tesla founder Elon Musk's recently imagined Hyperloop system and other futuristic elevated systems, Lawrence said, "Our products are focused on the immediate need to provide transit to as many people as possible while using the least amount of energy. We’ve also figured out how to offer this significant leap in mobility while dramatically lowering capital and operating costs. Importantly, unlike Hyperloop and other technologies in the imagination stage, our approach is already proven; our technology is poised to cause major near-term positive market disruption."

Swift's pending patents cover switching, dynamic aerodynamic control, emergency evacuation, and other intellectual property. Four projects in Colorado are currently in the feasibility studies stage. The company is now offering investment opportunities.

Joe Pramberger of NASA Techbriefs said there were nearly 1,000 contest entries. Swift Tram will be recognized in ceremony in New York on November 8.