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The Future of Transport

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What will transportation look like in the future? Electric vehicles, high-speed rail, and vehicles with increasing levels of automation are some of the latest transport features happening now. But what about all the technologies we have yet to discover? As global population rises and urban congestion increases, we will need to find new ways to move people efficiently, sustainably, and safely.

Woman in a horse drawn carriage and boy on a bicycle. Ref: 1/2-096571-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22877392

Looking back to look forward

Before thinking about where we could go in the future, it is important to look back at how far we have come. Think about the generation of New Zealanders born in the late 1800s. Someone born during that period would have grown up with such things as bullock- and horse-drawn vehicles. People also walked a lot, often pushing wheelbarrows and handcarts. Trains, trams, and cable cars were being developed throughout New Zealand at that time too, and bicycle use was becoming popular.

The first cars came to New Zealand in 1898. A young person in the early 1900s could have hardly imagined that within their lifetime cars would become commonplace. In the mid 1930’s, commercial flight was in its early stages. Very few people would have flown in an aircraft. Back then, people probably could not have imagined flying would become common, let alone that humans would land on the moon! This generation saw the unimaginable become reality. Life brings similar changes for us too. Have you seen things once unimaginable become reality?

We obviously cannot predict the future with certainty, but we do already have a sense of what is possible.

Image: Public Domain

Future transport needs to change

Transport has always shaped cities. In medieval times crossroads often resulted in the growth of market towns. Venice was built up around its canals. Industrial Britain’s development followed the route of railways and waterways. Many North American cities were created for the car.

But cities are now home to over half the global population. Carbon emissions are a big problem and air quality is increasingly poor. Scientists are working hard to invent the future of transport.

Transportation is now the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 24 percent of global emissions (Earth Day Network). Sustainable modes of transport are a win/win for you and the city. They lower carbon emissions and increase physical activity, leading to better health outcomes for all.

Several cities are already taking significant steps towards creating sustainable transport systems. For example, in Manila, in the Philippines, the Asian Development Bank is aiming to roll out 100,000 electric tricycles (e-trikes – which are used like taxis) to replace current fossil fuel versions.

Hangzhou in China, which already has the world’s largest bike-sharing scheme, has embraced the electric car. It is now installing multi-storey “vending machines” for ultra-compact electric cars, with a 125 kilometre range and costing just US$3 an hour. There are around 50 of these in the city today and plans for many more. Hangzhou also has battery-swapping facilities for around 500 electric taxis.

(The Economist 2015)

Image: Ohmio

Future transport designs

In design, imagination rules. People once laughed at the potential for human flight. No one thought the first cars could even make it across the road! So, what are the transport designs of the future? Weird and wonderful suggestions include vacuum tubes, underwater planes, space elevators and bicycles in the sky! Here are six examples:

  1. Self-driving cars
    Self-driving (autonomous) cars could soon be a regular sighting, with not a driver in sight! Self-driving vehicles drive themselves. They sense what is around them and find their way by using technology. They use sensors and software to control, navigate, and drive the vehicle.

  2. Autonomous aircraft
    As well as autonomous cars, autonomous aircraft are also set to play a key role in the future of mass transportation systems. These could take the form of taxis and be used to deliver freight. Another type of autonomous aircraft are drones. Delivery drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can deliver lightweight packages. These are already being used in some parts of the world for delivering certain items.

  3. Elevated cycle paths
    In the future you might see the creation of elevated cycle paths. This futuristic route would be made up of an enclosed, elevated tube, enabling cyclists to ride all year round in comfort thanks to full climate control. Can you imagine seeing something like this in a city near you soon?

  4. The shweeb
    New Zealand-based Shweeb (https://www.shweeb.co.nz/) first revealed the concept for a human monorail several years ago. It is a monorail system where travellers pedal recumbent bicycle-style vehicles along tracks. Could this be a likely form of city transport in the future?

  5. Smart roads
    The development of smart roads connected to the internet could help to reduce road deaths. In smart roads, sensors would instantly communicate with smart cars about the best ways to avoid hazards or adverse road conditions. Wireless battery chargers under the road would mean that smart roads could also recharge electric cars and trucks while they drive.

  6. Hyperloop
    The principle of the Hyperloop is based on the movement of people in capsules or pods that travel at high speeds though tubes over long distances. Inside the tubes is a low-pressure environment void of air, while the pods use magnetic levitation (MagLev) technology for propulsion. The low pressure and MagLev create a low friction environment, allowing the pods to travel upwards of 900 kilometres per hour.

The above examples are just some of the innovations on the horizon for the future of human transportation. Wherever the future of transport takes us, it will likely be shaped for a more sustainable world.

Ready for a quiz? Try The Future of Transport interactive activity.

An analysis of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per kilometre showed that autonomous electric vehicles used as a fleet of driverless taxis would by 2030 have emissions that are 63 to 82 per cent lower than a future privately-owned hybrid car, and 90 per cent lower than a current petrol-driven private car. Further savings could be made by including things such as “platooning”, where several driverless vehicles are driven closely together in a row to reduce wind resistance, as well as using smoother acceleration and braking.

(The Independent)

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