The 20th of April 1989 is very much alive in the memory of Oskar Coester, president of Aeromovel Brasil S/A and inventor of the technology. His heart was beating fast at the inauguration ceremony of Aeromovel’s first commercial line in the world. The scenario was Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. It took eight months to build a 3.2 km ring, with six stations and three vehicles.
The first trip had a small hitch. “There were ministers, the president and other authorities on board of the vehicle. Around 160 people. At the end, as a result of human failure the vehicle braked abruptly. A small incident which did not spoil the ceremony. And after that first trip, 25 years have gone by without one single accident”, says Coester.
The Aeromovel got to Indonesia through Lee Rogers, an American economist who met Oskar Coester, got excited with the technology developed in Rio Grande do Sul and introduced him to the Indonesians, who invested in the new idea.
In Brazil, the road to make Aeromovel’s commercial operation a reality was longer. “I tried to understand: why is it that we manage to travel from Porto Alegre to Rio de Janeiro (around 1,500 kilometres) in a little over an hour, but it takes us longer than that to get to the airport? The urban mobility issue bothered me. We needed an exclusive expressway, at a low cost and with no obstacles to deter it. This led me to the concept of the Aeromovel. It is a combination of known materials and technology, in a different way”, says Coester.
“An essential issue that was taken into consideration is the ratio useful load/dead weight: any automobile weighs around a ton and a person weighs on average 70 kilos, in other words, with just one person in the car, you are using less than 10% of its capacity. In the Aeromovel, the vehicle’s dead weight weighs around the same thing as a bicycle. The vehicle is light and can fit a lot of people. Any similar railway type vehicle weighs three to five times more”, explains Coester.
According to the inventor, the option for the wheel/rail system was made because of less friction, around ten times less than the tyre/tarmac system. The propulsion was inspired on a sailboat, but in an inverted format. The vehicles are moved by the air generated by industrial fans placed on the ground, which control the air pressure, speed and direction the vehicle is travelling in.
“When I prepared the first patent, I thought it was so simple that it probably existed already. But no. England was the first country to grant me the patent in 1978. And several other countries granted the patent later, such as Japan, Germany, United States, France and Brazil”, says Coester.
The first test vehicle was created in 1977, with the aim of assessing energy performance and behaviour. Three years later, another vehicle was presented at the Hannover Fair, in Germany. In the early 80s, a pilot line was built in Porto Alegre city centre and a vehicle was installed with resources from the Studies and Projects Finance Organisation (FINEP) and the Ministry of Science and Technology. The first trip with passengers was done in 1983, but without commercial goals.
From the early 80s until 2010, when finally the contract with Porto Alegre’s Urban Trains Company (TRENSURB) was signed for building the commercial line, several tests and studies were conducted. Contracts with public bodies and other institutions started and finished, difficulties presented themselves, but Oskar persevered.
The tests in Porto Alegre city centre aimed at enhancing the technology still take place, in partnership with the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and the state's Catholic University. But now, all attention is directed to the system being finished at the airport.
Construction works are drawing to a close and Oskar can barely wait for another inauguration ceremony, but this time in his country. “For me, inaugurating the line in Porto Alegre will be a moment with strong emotions, because of everything that's happened throughout the years. But without a doubt, the biggest feeling is of gratitude. Not because I’m the one who’s done it, but because it is a Brazilian project. The future will tell us if we’re on the right path", he concludes.
» Video (with English subtitles)