A short review of practical and outlandish transportation ideas
The horizon of fully autonomous vehicles is now clearly visible on the horizon. It’s just a matter of a few years before intelligent vehicles become a common sight on roads around the world. However, as technology continues to progress by leaps and bounds, driven by research and innovation, futurists, scientists and entrepreneurs are continuously working on new ideas that could prove to be the next big thing in mobility and transport.
As Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum Founder, recently pointed out: “We are standing on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another … In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”
Cars that drive themselves are no longer science fiction; as a matter of fact, they haven’t been for years now. From Asia to America, passing through Europe, self-driving cars are being tested on our roads. Pilot taxi services and autonomous fleets of freight trucks are crossing the continents successfully without much news coverage, as the automotive industry gears up for the public commercialization of self-driving cars.
Experts indicate that fleets and transportation services will be the first to exploit fully-autonomous intelligent vehicles, possibly by the end of the decade and before the automotive industry is ready to sell such vehicles to individual citizens.
Drones are now ubiquitous. They are used for an endless series of tasks ranging from filming to monitoring tools by farmers, environmental protection agencies, and police and military forces, as well as for pure entertainment. However, recently, most of the hype has addressed the promise of delivery drones.
While drones actually are already being used for delivery in (very) local contexts, where they do not fall under existing regulations, policy makers around the world are still puzzled about how this service could be regulated. Indeed, while some claim that delivery drones would significantly reduce road congestion, by eliminating the bulk of shoppers and small goods delivery, a skyline punctuated by thousands of delivery drones could hardly be considered an improvement either to the environment or to our quality of life.
Not all drones are airborne, though. A new company created by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, has begun testing a fleet of “land drones.” These are telematics-driven, autonomous, battery-powered vehicles that aim to revolutionise the local delivery of corner shop goods and groceries in London.
This wildly futuristic transport concept was first formulated by renowned entrepreneur and visionary Elon Musk, but is now being tested by a number of companies and start-ups.
The Hyperloop is a proposed mode of passenger and freight transportation that would propel a pod-like vehicle – or a normal vehicle on a special carriage - through a reduced-pressure tube that could potentially exceed airliner speeds. The rationale behind this extremely expensive project is that vehicles would only need to travel locally, while they could employ the system to move over greater distances, extremely rapidly.
The system, which brings together the concept of pneumatic mail systems with the old dream of a personal rapid transit systems, is currently being tested in the Nevada Desert in the United States.
As with all other new forms of technology, this fascinating idea will have to be proved feasible and safe, accepted and trusted by users, approved and regulated by national governments and then implemented. So, it may well be a while before we see its rise to prominence.
It’s the dream of just about every child and certainly that of an entire generation that grew up in the 1960s watching the Jetsons. Alas, it does not seem very plausible in the near future.
If this outlandish mode of transport ever truly arises, it will certainly be based on the know-how and experience produced by “terrestrial” self-driving vehicles, which will then have to be adapted with cutting-edge aeronautic technology. And that’s not even taking into consideration cost, legislation and adoption by the public at large. In the end, when the technology becomes available, it may very well remain a niche market, just like that of private planes, today.
In a steampunk epiphany, Google Co-founder Sergey Brin is working on a project for massive helium-powered airships that could move freight at a lower cost than either trucks or airplanes.
The added value of airship delivery would be that products could be delivered directly to their final destination without requiring lengthy re-routing procedures in freight collection points.
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