10 Sci-Fi Methods of Travel We May Soon Be Using
By Robert Grimminck, Toptenz, 20 June 2016.
By Robert Grimminck, Toptenz, 20 June 2016.
The world’s population is growing every day, which means that there are more commuters who need to get around. The increase in commuters will make gridlock in urban areas much worse, and will also put a lot of pressure on aging and outdated public transit systems. Not to mention, it could be devastating to the environment. To combat the growing problem, new, inexpensive, and innovative forms of transportation are going to be needed. While self-driving cars are expected to become the norm in about 25 years, what other forms of transportation will we be using?
10. Drone Train
In his video, designer Dahir Insaat shows how a large drone tethered to a track would be a cheap and eco-friendly way to transport lots of people. Insaat doesn’t give many details about his system, but claims that it can all be made with current technology and would be environmentally friendly.
Besides being a tethered drone, something else that stands out about the design is the inside of the drone where the passengers are held. It looks more like a bar and restaurant than a cramped train or airplane. And if you had to travel over a long distance, which would you rather choose?
If our ancestors knew that we had machines that allowed us to run or walk in one spot, they would probably laugh at us (but hopefully if you time travel and meet your ancient ancestors, the treadmill isn’t the topic you lead with). Trying to remedy the ridiculousness of treadmills and turn them into functional modes of transportation is the Dutch company Lopifit.
The Lopifit is a scooter-type vehicle that utilizes a battery and is powered by someone walking on a treadmill. The battery range is 34 miles and its top speed is about 15 miles per hour, which is faster than the average speed of a bicycle. It has six gears, can climb hills and even has interchangeable wheels for off road excursions. One Lopifit will set you back 1,899 Euros (US$2,100).
There’s a saying about boats: they’re holes in water that you dump money into. They are hard to maintain and most of them aren’t exactly energy efficient, meaning they’re expensive to drive as well.
For these reasons, boats like the Quadrofoil may become more popular in the future. The two passenger boat has an all-electric motor and from one charge, it has a 60 mile range. The boat uses hydrofoil technology, which means it uses special vanes, or wings, that push it out of the water, which cuts down on resistance and makes the boat go faster. In the case of the Quadrofoil, that’s about 21 knots (about 18 MPH).
The boat is almost silent and can be used in environmentally protected sanctuaries. If you want one, it costs about US$18,700 for a baseline model.
7. The Shweeb
Bicycles are great for getting around, but they do have a few downsides. Once you get somewhere, you have to lock it up, then you have to find some place to store your helmet. Not to mention the contemptuous relationship between cyclists and drivers and how many people are killed and injured every year while riding a bike. For these reasons, the future of cycling may be something like The Shweeb, which is a human-powered monorail. The system uses aerodynamic pods in a tube that hang from low resistance tracks. By just pedaling, most riders reach 28 MPH, and up to five cars can be linked together.
A proof of concept was built at an amusement park in New Zealand and the designer says that they could be easily and inexpensively expanded to cities. Since they are powered by humans, there would be a minimal carbon footprint. Now, we just need to do something about that ridiculous name and we’re all set.
Boston boasts a population of over 667,000 people and is one of the major tourist cities in the United States. That means when there is an event or bad weather, the city can become nightmarishly gridlocked. Their transit infrastructure is also badly out of date and to get moderate upgrades, it is going to cost the city US$7.3 billion. Of course, Boston isn’t alone in this and cities across the world are struggling with gridlock and aging and inadequate public transit systems. However, we use Boston as the example, because a transit designer in Boston has a way to alter the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for a measly US$2.3 billion.
Emil Jacob’s idea is to replace all the buses, subways, and commuter rail with elevated electric street cars. The cTrain, which is short for Caterpillar Train, would use narrow cable-like rail lines that are elevated about two stories over the road. The system would run cars on top of the track, while other cars hang below, meaning two trains could use the track at the same time. A 40-foot train car could run on the same amount of power required to operate three golf carts and it could travel at speeds of 50 to 100 MPH.
Besides just being cheaper to install instead of upgrading, the cTrain would be less expensive to operate and it would be much more environmentally friendly.
5. 3D Express Coach
If you hate traffic, you might want to avoid China. It’s already home to the world’s longest traffic jam (it was 62 miles long and lasted for 12 days) and 14 million new cars are bought there every year. China’s population is also expected to increase by over 100 million people over the next 15 years - meaning the Chinese government will really need to think outside the box if they want to keep their citizens moving without poisoning everyone. One proposal is the 3D Express Coach that was first unveiled by the Shenzhen Hashi Future Parking Equipment Company in 2010.
The vehicles, which can carry 300 people, span the whole road and on both sides of the double lane road are tracks. This would allow the bus to travel over the cars, which would have a twofold effect. The first is that it removes buses from the road, which would alleviate traffic. Secondly, by avoiding traffic and going above it, the 3D Express Coach can keep to their schedule, making them more reliable.
Test tracks for the Coach Express are set to be laid in China in 2016.
4. The Horizon System
An interesting, but far out way to travel long distances is the Horizon System, which was developed by a group of Scottish students. How it works is that you arrive at the airports of the future, which they call SkyStations. They will be placed throughout the cities and equipped with restaurants, bars, and an augmented reality mall. Which we guess is a thing that might exist at some point?
Once your SkyLink pod arrives, you board it, and you can go to another SkyStation nearby, or if you have a longer distance to travel, your pod will meet up with other pods on a specialized airstrip. Then, a drone will swoop down and, using powerful magnets, the SkyShip will pick up your pod like an “Eagle catching its prey.” This recharges the SkyShips’ battery, which allows the SkyShips to always be running.
After picking up the pods, the SkyShip will start to climb. Once it reaches a certain elevation, the pods will open up and you’ll be able to leave your seat. When you reach your destination, the SkyShip will drop off your pod at the airstrip and it will take you to the nearest SkyStation.
Of course, there is a long way to go before we have drones that can pick up trains, but the Horizon System shows what exciting things may come with advancements in transportation.
Bordering the line between transportation and amusement park ride is NASA’s skyTran. The system uses rocket shaped cars that hold four people and hang from a cable. Using electromagnets, each car can reach 60 MPH, but they only use one-third of the energy of a hybrid car.
To install a skyTran system, it would cost a city US$8 million per a kilometer and then it’s US$25,000 to $30,000 per car, which is relatively cheap compared to the alternatives. For example, it costs anywhere from US$100 million to US$2 billion to build one kilometer of an underground system. Another bonus is that the skyTran can be set up in a matter of days, instead of months or years. The electromagnets also mean that it uses less energy, making the cars cheaper to run. SkyTran would be a personal transit system where electricity isn’t relied on.
Currently, skyTran is being tested in Tel Aviv, Israel. If the tests are successful, three other cities in Israel and several in the United States will be installing skyTran systems in 2018.
2. Passenger Drones
Flying cars may look cool in movies like Blade Runner, but there are some serious problems with them. For example, if you get into a fender bender or your flying car stalls in the sky, it could be a lot more serious than having a head-on collision on the ground. Plus, instead of just a driver’s license, people would also need a pilot’s license, which would be much harder to get because flying is obviously more complicated than driving. And if you’ve done some driving in a city with a lot of traffic, you know that many people should have never been granted their driver’s license (Toronto, we’re looking in your direction), so why would anyone risk using a flying car?
Tackling many of these potential problems is EHang Inc., a Chinese drone company. At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, they unveiled the EHang 184, a personal autonomous aerial vehicle, which is the world’s first passenger drone. It’s a single person drone that uses eight propellers and goes 1,000 to 1,650 feet off the ground, but it has a maximum altitude of 11,500 feet . It has a top speed of 62 MPH, and it can carry 264 pounds. The biggest limitation is that it can only keep a passenger airborne at sea level for 23 minutes and it takes two hours to charge it.
The controls for flying one are Idiocracy-type easy. There are two commands that can be controlled on a tablet: take off, and land. Once the drone is in the air, it will guide itself to your destination and land safely on its own.
The EHang is expected to go on sale later in 2016 with a price tag between US$200,000 and US$300,000.
1. Evacuated Tube Transport
An interesting thing about air is that while we can’t feel it while we are standing still or moving slowly, the faster you move, the more air resistance you meet, and the more it slows you down. However, if there was no air, we could move around much more freely. Of course if there was no air we’d all die, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, a lack of air resistance is the idea behind evacuated tube transport, which would use frictionless vehicles in an airless or near airless tube.
One example of an evacuated tube transport system is Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. The Hyperloop removes most of the air from a steel tube, and then cars are pushed using a tiny amount of air compression. Musk proposed that the first Hyperloop would connect Los Angeles to San Francisco, a distance of about 380 miles. The passenger cars could leave every 10 seconds and they could reach 760 MPH, meaning the trip would be done in half an hour (whereas by car, it would be about a six hour drive). The cost of the Hyperloop is US$6 billion, which sounds like a lot of money. However, California is already building a much-delayed, high speed train, and it’s costing them ten times more with a price tag of at least US$64 billion. Then when it is done, it will only go 220 MPH - not nearly as fast as the Hyperloop. Musk has already raised US$120 million in investor money and wants to have the system carrying passengers by 2021.
Beyond California, another company called ET3 wants to use the same principle and have frictionless trains that travel from continent to continent. Their vacuum tube uses electromagnets and cars would carry six people, reaching speeds of 4,000 MPH, which is more than five times faster than the current land speed record. However, due to the way the car increases its velocity, passengers inside never feel like they are going faster than a sharp turn in a car.
Top image: The C-train concept. Credit: Jacob Innovations.
[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Some links added.]