Students at North Carolina State University are accustomed to dealing with long trips between buildings – the bus trip from Hunt Library, on Centennial Campus, and D.H. Hill Library, on main campus, can take up to 20 minutes.

A research team at the college is busy working on a futuristic way to move thousands of people a day along that route in just a few minutes.

Developers say the “Econ PRT,” a personal rapid transit system, could be the start of something big.

“It will be like stepping into the Jetsons,” Marshall Brain, director of the university’s Engineering Entrepreneurs Program, said.

Brain and Seth Hollar are leading a team of students in building prototype models out of aluminum and Plexiglas.

Two people can ride in each of the units, which operate like an automatically guided car that constantly runs between different stations on a raised track.

People use similar systems in other parts of the world, including at London’s Heathrow Airport and in Morgantown, W.V.

“Those systems are much heavier, much larger and much more expensive than what we’re proposing here,” Brain said.

Hollar says the existing PRT systems cost up to $10 million a mile. Light-rail systems that connect cities can cost up to $70 million a mile.

Hollar says NC State’s system would use narrow tracks hanging on poles. They would be placed along existing rights of way.

“The construction of the track itself could be only $1 million a mile,” Hollar said.

The cars used to transport people back and forth could cost about $10,000 each.

“There’s giant pent-up demand for a system like this, but there’s no system they could possibly afford,” Brain said. “You will see this thing and say, ‘N.C. State is the future.’ And then the rest of Raleigh is going to get made over as well.”

Hollar and Brain say they plan to continue work on the development of the prototype, and they hope to make it autonomous. They don’t have a timeline on when construction could begin.