It’s good to remain humble when prognosticating about the future. Clever science fiction writers might have been able to predict the invention of automobiles after the era of the horse and buggy, but no one imagined that there would be such a thing as the gridlock that soon congested cities as America became a motoring nation.
Indeed, getting from point A to point B used to be a fairly straightforward activity in the early days of human civilization. People walked, rode horses and other beasts of burden and hooked animals to carts to help them get around, or used boats to travel between landmasses. Then came bicycles, followed by heavy industry with railroads, cars, airplanes and rockets.
Clearly, we have come a long way since the days of running around barefoot, scraping for food and shelter. Putting transportation in historical context makes it easier to appreciate the latest developments in next-generation transportation.
It’s time to examine the future of transportation. Moving from one location to the next promises to be more efficient, faster and even more fun when you consider the innovations that major organizations have been coming up with.
What Is Next-generation Transportation?
If the last transportation innovation that you can remember is the Segway (a two-wheeled platform from 2001 that uses gyroscopes to keep the user positioned upright and takes navigation from the leaning action of the rider), there is a lot of next-gen transportation technology to be aware of.
Entrepreneurs and innovators have been applying their minds and talent to creating new ways of getting about. Here are some prominent examples of next-gen transportation that you will want to keep in mind:
The future of cars is in autonomous vehicles. From buses that take your children to school to limousines and taxis that arrive when you summon them with a smartphone app, self-driving cars are definitely going to take over the nation’s roads.
Google famously deployed autonomous vehicles with cameras mounted on them to take pictures for Google Maps. Thanks to these efforts, people can see exactly what it looks like on the ground before planning a trip.
The Hyperloop is a concept made famous by Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and the CEO of Tesla, a company that makes electric vehicles with autonomous capability. A Hyperloop is a futuristic transportation system in which passengers go inside pods that are whisked through tubes, levitating on a cushion of air.
According to a report from the Sun, Dubai made a deal with Hyperloop One in Los Angeles to construct a Hyperloop that would connect Abu Dhabi with Dubai. The trip, which now takes at least an hour by ordinary cars, would be reduced to 12 minutes in the Hyperloop.
Magnetically levitating or mag-lev trains have been constructed in Japan, France and other nations and may find a place in the United States if industry and government can cooperate on building up this high-speed infrastructure.
Trains have magnets in them that repel against electromagnets in the track, enabling them to travel friction-free and much faster than ordinary trains.
You might think of drones as small devices that fly around semi autonomously or under complete human control but not regard them as sophisticated transportation devices. Not only are organizations using drones to transport products, manufacturers are developing drones to move people around too.
Companies such as Amazon and Dominos Pizza plan to start making deliveries with drones, noted the Guardian, which pointed out that drones have a place in everything from security patrols to agriculture drones delivering supplies to farms.
Solar Powered Aircraft
People interested in “going green” and doing their part to reduce carbon emissions are looking forward to the use of renewable resources like solar power to help them get around.
To that end, a major innovation was realized last June, when the Solar Impulse 2 completed its first trip around the world. According to the Atlantic, the sun-fueled plane took 505 days to travel 26,000 miles, landing in Abu Dhabi with in excess of 17,000 solar cells providing the needed power.
Who Are the Primary Players Behind Next-gen Transportation?
A number of companies are making waves in next-generation transportation. It’s interesting to see how different companies approach cutting edge transportation. Primary players behind next-gen transportation include:
Progress to Date in Next-gen Transportation
Search engine giant Google has already made significant progress in next-gen transportation with its fleet of automated cars that ceaselessly drive through neighborhoods, taking pictures for Google Maps.
Companies such as Amazon have already publicized initial attempts to deliver packages using drones. While not everyone is a fan of drone delivery, citing invasions of privacy and noise from drone motors, the industry can make adjustments to satisfy complaints. Otherwise, images of homeowners blasting drones out of the sky with a rifle to protect privacy may become emblematic of the tensions between commerce and people’s right to be left alone.
On-demand ride company Uber attracted plenty of attention when it announced its vision of autonomous flying vehicles. But work is needed from government agencies before it can become a reality. As the Aerospace Industries Association pointed out, “the image of effortless, on-demand, point-to-point flight is intriguing. While the vision of this type of transportation has been around since the Jetsons, the possible reality of such flight seems closer than ever.”
The problem is, “without significant investment in our nation’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), this futuristic vision will never get off the ground. While stories reporting Uber’s plans for flying taxis said the infrastructure is in place, this couldn’t be further from the truth. But it could be within reach if Congress appropriately funds the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).”
Your desktop or laptop computer may run on chips made by Intel. But Intel is involved in much more than computing for office workers. “Intel is collaborating with BMW Group and Mobileye to create a platform for highly and fully autonomous driving,” according to a report from Intel. “Our combined expertise in automotive, technology, computer vision, and machine learning is designed to bring solutions into series production by 2021.”
Which Industries Will Prosper and Which Might Wither Away?
When you can automate transportation to the point that cars and trucks can make their way through busy streets with no human intervention, it’s easy to see that we’re in for some massive disruption.
In America, where car culture led to a coast-to-coast highway system, the dawn of drive-through services and a whole industry devoted to delivery, you can count on many industries declining into oblivion while others will rise in strength and market share.
For example, ground transportation companies are tasked with ferrying executives from home to the airport and back again, in limousines, town cars and even hybrid vehicles. With automated cars on the horizon, ground transportation firms will need to either demonstrate that human drivers are still needed to meet duty of care obligations, or adapt like other transportation sectors.
Meal delivery, such as restaurants that promise you a pizza within 30 minutes or the food will be free, will no longer depend on the human element.
Taxi service is already declining, since customers can order a vehicle through their smartphone as with Uber and Lyft.
Online stores such as Amazon, deploying automated vehicles as well as drones could see a major uptick in growth and sales if customers take to drone delivery.
What to Expect for Next-Gen Transportation in 2017
On-demand rides from companies such as Uber should increase, with the potential for people buying fewer cars since they can summon one whenever needed with a tap on the screen of their smartphone. While human drivers will still be involved until government regulations and industry standards solidify, driverless cars should start becoming more normal instead of being a novelty.
More attention will be paid to the prospect of vehicles forming networks while they’re on the road and how this will affect the nature of cities. “Connected vehicles use vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications to provide connectivity that will enable countless safety, mobility, and environmental applications,” noted a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
It continued, stating that “Connected vehicle technologies allow vehicles to send and receive information about their movements in the network – offering cities unprecedented opportunities to provide more responsive and efficient mobility solutions in real-time and in the long term.”
So, the advent of next-gen transportation will also affect how cities will evolve.
We will provide ongoing coverage of changes in transportation, so stay tuned to this page for upcoming reports!