The SkyTran system is an elegant engineering design, but it ignores some important social norms, and I think these have to be addressed for the system to succeed.
As a commuter, I'd take SkyTran over any other option I know of. But if I'm going out with some friends, it would be an unwelcome disruption of our time together to pile into separate cars, or to be in a car with a friend but be unable to face them. And I just can't imagine using the system as described to take three kids to the museum.
I recognize that the economics of the system rely on standardization and on some severe engineering constraints, but human factors have to be part of the engineering, too.
Do I have any proposed solutions to the issues above?
As a parent I wanted to address some of these issues. I have two kids, 7 and 9, and I would have no problem putting them in a pod with a gameboy to go visit their grandparents or go to soccer practice as long as there is a failsafe system so that the door will only open at the correct destination, or someone who is authorized can pick the kid up. If I needed to travel with both kids, I'd pop the one who's in the most need of alone time in one pod and then go with another child in the other for some one-on-one time. I would not put a kid under, say, the age of 5 in a pod by themselves-but you're not allowed to send kids that young on planes by themselves, either. Parents currently put their kids in the backseat, so there isn't a lot of side-by-side conversation and travel. I would have loved to take my kids to the museum in this last time I took three kids to the museum, the two girls CONSTANT chattering was giving me a headache. I wouldn't have minded shoving them off in a pod right in front of mine and letting them enjoy their talking without having to listen to comparisons of different Hanna Montana songs. If they're old enough to have a cell phone (both my kids have cell phones) then they're old enough to wait for me to get out of my pod behind them. I also let them go to the bathroom on their own when I'm at a grocery store or gas station, I think this is about the same level of independence. If I had, say, a toddler and a baby, the toddler could easily go in the back seat with some toys and the baby in my lap.
Computer-driven pods would be a godsend to parents who are divorced with joint custody. Knowing that you can safely drop your kid off and that the other parent will pick them up without having to meet someplace, or even worse drop the kid off at a police station for 20 minutes to make sure you never see your ex, would be much simpler and safer. I hate having to deal with my husbands ex wife, and we're court ordered to do custody exchange at a gas station, which is an improvement to the last court order, which specified a Starbucks.
Most travel in cars is single-person. Also, most trips would be fairly short (at 150 miles an hour, even a trip from Dallas to Houston is only an hour and twenty minutes). A backwards-facing front seat would probably be less popular- people like looking out windows where they are going, and if you notice in trains people tend to cluster towards the front windows and try to sit facing forward. (In the far-more-common commuter case, clever mechanical engineering might make the rear-facing front seat convert to a table for my laptop, paper, breakfast etc. Big constraint is that in these super-lightweight pods, the seats are also part of the vehicle structure. ) Having the front chair rotate-able might be interesting, but can probably wait until the second or third generation of pods. A seat that faces the door, or just a bench that faces the door, is also probably do-able but would do weird things to the weight balance, and probably cut back on the energy efficiency of the vehicles.