Japan is well-known for its packed commuter trains. For decades, smartly dressed men and women have shuffled wordlessly into train cars each morning, all painfully aware that they will soon be getting up-close and personal with total strangers and have nowhere to run, hide, or even breathe freely until their stop. Glove-wearing station staff pack passengers in as tightly as they’ll go without them popping out the other side, each firm shove accompanied by a polite word or phrase thanking passengers for moving all the way inside the car or warning them to keep their various appendages clear of the (just barely) closing doors.
But earlier today, Japan was given a glimpse of a much more civilised, luxuriant commuting experience that may soon put an end to these sardine-can shenanigans. Better yet, this logistical revolution is coming soon: not twelve months from now, commuters will be able to zip into Tokyo in style, lying back in comfortable faux-leather chairs inside sleek, aerodynamic private pods that resemble something out of Minority Report.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the next generation of luxury travel, and its name is Kosoku.
At a press conference held early this morning, Japan Rail Co. announced that it was partnering with Watanuki Labs, an Osaka-based aeronautical design and manufacturing company, to offer a new, “luxury” commuter service to customers in the Tokyo area, beginning as early as April 2016. The project, known as Kosoku (a combination of the kanji characters for “individual” 個 ko and “speed” 速 soku) is a series of sleek, bullet train-shaped “wan-man” (one-person) pods that will provide commuters with a space of their very own, all while getting them to the city in record time.
Luxury meets rush hour
Fielding questions from reporters, lead designer Tadashi Yao spoke briefly about where the idea for the high-speed pods came from, as well as providing a few juicy titbits about the project.
“In generations gone by, travelling by train was considered something of a luxury, and those embarking on longer journeys would often ride in private compartments,” he said. “As I’m sure you know, commuters in Tokyo are forced to pack into crowded trains every day, with little or no personal space. With the Kosoku Project, we’re hoping to offer our customers the comfort and privacy they crave, but also ensuring that they get to their destination as quickly as possible by utilising our knowledge of aerodynamic systems and technologies.”
Even at this early stage, Kosoku has a distinctly “business class” feel to it. Although pricing has yet to be announced, customers will be required to make reservations in advance or purchase a commuter pass-style subscription to the service, with pods scheduled to launch in “clusters” from specially designated sections of the platform.
“For those who wish to arrive at work feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world, Kosoku will be the obvious choice,” Mr Yao told reporters. “Rush hour will soon be as sophisticated as travelling in a private compartment in the early 20th century, but with 21-century technology improving upon every facet of that experience.”
All for one
Designed to fit existing rail networks, Kosoku’s one-person pods will comfortably seat passengers measuring up to 210cm (6’10”) tall, and even have room for a small bag or briefcase weighing up to 20kg (44lbs). Passengers will slide into the pods via a “scissor” door on the side akin to those of a Lamborghini sports car, placing their legs inside the nose section of the pod and then lying back in their seat, which can be adjusted from anything from a 45-degree angle to almost completely flat.
At barely a metre tall, the slender pods hug the ground for maximum speed
Once the door is closed, passengers will have access to a whole host of high-tech gizmos and functions. Here’s what we know about the inside of the Kosoku pods, taken from the official press release:
– Fully air-conditioned, with a choice of relaxing or invigorating air fragrances to prep passengers for the day ahead
– Reclining seat with built-in shiatsu massage functions
– Smartphone dock with in-pod speakers to enjoy music and video on the go
– Free secure Wi-Fi for all Kosoku users
– Cup holders designed to fit a range of cups from popular coffee chains, from short to venti
– Fully adjustable mood lighting and a selection of ambient sounds to listen to, including “lush forest,” “underwater” and a rousing “baseball stadium”
– A small viewing panel with UV-filtering glass, so passengers can watch the world hurtle towards them
We can’t help wondering how many Kosoku passengers will miss their stop with so many distractions and creature comforts to hand!
When asked whether passengers might feel unnerved, rather than relaxed, as they zoom along the track in such a confined space at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour, Mr Yao stressed that passengers’ comfort and safety were being put before all else. Furthermore, unmanned prototype pods are already being tested on selected Tokyo train lines during the early hours of the morning, he said, and members of the public would be invited to sign up to take part in the human passenger test phase when an official website goes live on June 31 this year.
We may still be some months away from finding out just how much it will cost to zip to work in a private pod, but one thing’s for sure: our days of riding Tokyo’s packed rush-hour trains will soon be over!
Source; featured image (©) Kosoku Project press release (Japanese)