Transportation is undergoing one of the biggest transformations in history.
From self-driving cars to the Hyperloop, companies are investing in new ways for humans to get from point A to point B more efficiently.
Here’s a look at some of the vehicles and transport systems that are being developed that could dramatically change how we travel on Earth and, possibly, even to other planets.
Electric cars are already here and are helping make the world greener.
Electric cars are going mainstream. Numerous major automakers plan to roll out a fully electric, long-range car by the end of the decade.
Tesla, of course, already offers the Model S and Model X. And on July 28 the company will begin delivery of its Model 3, the company’s first mass-market electric car.
General Motors also began deliveries of its long-range electric car, the Chevy Bolt, last year.
Self-driving cars could help save lives and time.
- Thomson Reuters
Self-driving cars are quickly becoming a reality.
Most major automakers aim to have a car on the market with an advanced semiautonomous system by 2020. And many of these car companies expect to have fully autonomous cars ready within the decade.
Self-driving cars are expected to bring some big advantages, especially when it comes to safety.
In fact, it’s predicted that driverless-car adoption could help save thousands of lives annually.
According to a study by the Eno Centre for Transportation, if about 90% of cars on American roads were autonomous, the number of accidents would fall from 6 million a year to 1.3 million, and deaths would fall from 33,000 to 11,300.
Besides safety, autonomous vehicles are also expected to give people more free time, reduce carbon emissions, and help those who do not have the ability to drive – like elderly people – become more mobile.
Flying cars could make getting out of a traffic jam a cinch.
Flying cars may still be in their infancy, but they are gaining momentum.
Terrafugia, a flying-car startup, is aiming to have its newest flying vehicle, called the TF-X, flying by 2025. The TF-X will take off, fly, and land autonomously. The company also claims it will be a plug-in hybrid with a range of 500 miles.
Toyota is also interested in building a flying car.
The company has invested $386,000 in Cartivator, which is startup developing a car that can drive and fly. The startup’s car, dubbed Sky Drive, is expected to take its first test flight in 2019.
These vehicles could open up an entirely new way for consumers to get around on a daily basis. Just think, if traffic is bad, you could opt to fly instead.
Autonomous passenger drones could someday make your commute a breeze.
Unlike flying cars, autonomous large drones are just built for the sky and they could be here before you know it.
In June, Dubai’s Roads and Transportation Agency (RTA) said that it would begin testing autonomous aerial taxis during the fourth quarter and that it would use the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) made by the German startup Volocopter.
The aircraft, dubbed the Volocopter 2X, is equipped with the technology to fly autonomously. However, during the tests, the aircraft will have a pilot.
Another company working on developing an autonomous passenger drone is the Chinese company EHang.
In January 2016, EHang unveiled an electric autonomous drone that is capable of transporting a single passenger.
The personal autonomous aerial vehicle is called the EHang 184 and is about 4.9 feet tall, weighs 440 pounds, and the company claims it can carry a load of 220 pounds.
The aircraft, which is entirely powered by electricity, is capable of carrying a single passenger 23 minutes at an average cruising speed of 62 mph, according to the company. The aircraft’s maximum flying altitude is over 11,000 feet.
To get from point A to point B, a passenger simply enters their desired location into the smartphone app and the drone does the rest of the work.
In February, Dubai’s RTA also said that it planned to use the EHang 184 for testing.
Electric planes will help reduce carbon emissions and noise pollution.
Like electric cars, electric planes are also becoming a reality.
NASA and major aircraft makers are working to develop electric-propulsion systems. These electric planes would be more efficient, greatly help reduce carbon emissions, as well as decrease noise pollution.
In June 2016, NASA announced that it’s developing a futuristic, all-electric airplane for its X-plane Series, called the X-57. The battery-powered plane will have 14 electric motors and feature a newly designed plane wing.
With the X-57, NASA says aims to prove a 500% increase in high-speed cruise efficiency is possible.
It’s possible the X-57 could be ready to fly by the end of this year. And according to NASA, a commercial passenger plane with a fully electric propulsion system could be ready as soon as 2035.
Monorail systems like SkyTran could replace subways to help us quickly get around cities.
Autonomous monorails, like SkyTran, could dramatically improve your daily commute.
SkyTran’s high-tech system is capable of learning what commuters’ demands will be like at different times, enabling it to increase the number of pods available at certain stations when needed.
To use the SkyTran system, users simply go to the nearest station and enter their destination on the SkyTran app. The app will then assign the user to a specific pod.
Sanders also told Business Insider that SkyTran’s tracks and stations are small enough that they could be built just about anywhere, including inside office buildings and airports.
SkyTran announced in May 2016 that by 2020 it will launch its first-ever track in Lagos, Nigeria. The company says it is also in talks with Miral Asset Management group to build a system on YAS Island, which is an island in Abu Dhabi.
Self-driving shuttles could change public transportation.
Self-driving shuttles could change how people get around cities.
Instead of taking the bus or hailing a taxi, people could hitch a ride on a self-driving shuttle that can be requested via an app.
These kinds of driverless shuttles, which are already being tested in several cities, generally continue along a fixed route alongside normal traffic.
A French company called EasyMile is behind the development of a lot of the driverless shuttles being used in European cities. And the University of Michigan is also launching a driverless shuttle made by the Frech company NAVYA on its North Campus this fall.
Self-driving buses could provide another option for transporting people in crowded urban areas.
As the population in cities continues to increase, we will need more safe and efficient transport options.
To help meet this need, some companies are already working on self-driving buses.
For example, Mercedes-Benz announced its semiautonomous Future Bus last July. The Future Bus can recognize traffic lights, steer through tunnels, and can recognize pedestrians and bicyclists so that it can drive itself in certain situations.
Mercedes also claims its bus is more fuel efficient than your average city bus operated by a human because the self-driving system is always braking, accelerating, and shifting gears to optimize efficiency.
Right now, the Mercedes Future Bus has a top speed of 43 mph and is programmed to operate in bus-only lanes. This is because these lanes are usually easier to navigate since traffic is less complex. However, as technology progresses, the bus will get more self-driving capabilities.
Hyperloop systems could provide an affordable, efficient way to travel between major cities.
- Hyperloop Technologies
Traveling via passenger pods through tunnels at speeds exceeding 500 mph is bound to make traveling faster, but it could also make traveling more efficient.
Because the Hyperloop is in a controlled environment and is completely autonomous, it would likely mean there would never be delays because of weather or because of an operator’s error.
Two startups pursuing the technology are Hyperloop One and Arrivo, which was founded by Brogan BamBrogan, Hyperloop One’s former chief technology officer.
Reusable rockets could revolutionize space travel and help make human life interplanetary.
- SpaceX Photos/Flickr
Reusable rockets are key to making space travel more accessible. This is because if a rocket can be used more than once, the cost of spaceflight can be brought down significantly.
SpaceX and Blue Origin are leading the effort in making rockets reusable.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who founded Blue Origin, said he even envisions “millions of people living and working in space.”
Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, has also made significant progress in developing its reusable rockets, which travel much faster and farther than Blue Origin’s rockets.
Speaking at a tech conference last year, Musk said that he wants to land people on Mars in just nine years, by 2025.
“We’re establishing cargo flights to Mars that people can count on,” Musk said at the conference. “The Earth-Mars orbital rendezvous is only every 26 months, so there ‘ll be one in 2018; there’ll be another one in 2020. And I think if things go according to plan, we should be able to launch people probably in 2024 with arrival in 2025.”
A new tunneling system could also change the way people travel to and from cities.
Elon Musk’s latest venture, the Boring Company, wants to take tunneling to a whole new level.
In June, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX said the company had begun digging its first tunnel. He also shared photos and video footage of the company’s giant tunneling equipment in action.
With the Boring Company, Musk aims to build a network of underground tunnels in Los Angeles that would move cars on electric skates. The electric sled would allow for cars to be transported at 125 mph through the tunnel, Musk has said.
The company is now digging a demo tunnel in the SpaceX parking lot.
Musk has said that the system would allow people to travel from Westwood to LAX in five to six minutes. Currently, that commute takes about 40 minutes driving.