The way we move is changing – and not just because we can actually move again as the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Transportation is changing around the world thanks to new breakthrough technologies that promise to revolutionize the way we travel.
Whether planes, trains or automobiles – here are some of the key trends shaping the present – and future – of transport as we know it.
When talking about the future of mobility, no technology sums up expectations better than autonomous vehicles. Dismissed as impossible by experts less than two decades ago, today self-driving cars have traveled tens of millions of kilometers, most of them on public roads. Big players in this space are split between tech companies like Alphabet (through its Waymo division) and China’s Baidu and traditional auto companies like General Motors and BMW. Some companies, like Tesla, are a mix of both.
Fully autonomous, self-driving cars are still not for sale, but don’t be fooled by the fact that interest or research has waned. Self-driving vehicles are a challenge for several reasons: Technologically, in terms of social acceptance and from a regulatory point of view. While some evangelists who thought these problems were now resolved need to revise their optimism, things are clearly going in the right direction – although there have certainly been some setbacks along the way.
Everything revolves around electrification
Rising customer demand and increased government emphasis and regulation have meant that electrification has gained significant momentum in recent years. Don’t expect this to slow down either. According to the World Economic Forum, electric car registrations rose 41% in 2020, although global auto sales fell 16%. The ramp-up of electric vehicles can be seen in the United States, Europe and China, the three largest auto markets in the world – with China remaining the leading electric vehicle market.
In a world that is increasingly focused on sustainability, the mass adoption of electric vehicles could cut global emissions by more than a third by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). In total, there are more than 11 million electric vehicles registered on the roads, roughly the size of New York and Los Angeles combined.
As countries like Sweden and Israel test custom roads that charge vehicles’ batteries as they drive over them, EV charging should also become easier. This would solve a major bottleneck.
Technologies in the car
AI is making the way cars move smarter, but the in-car experience is also changing. And not just because the dashboard now contains more and more beautiful Tesla-style tablets. Affective Computing Company Affectiva is one of several companies working on interior sensors to analyze what is happening in the vehicle. That could mean using cameras and sensors to detect when a driver is tired or distracted, warn when a child has been left behind, or just analyze who is in the car and offer personalized entertainment.
Meanwhile, companies like Envisics are building headset-free in-car holographic systems that can provide the driver with augmented reality HUD technology on the windshield that is comparable to the technology typically used in fighter jets or airliners. Innovations like these can provide contextual information about the road while driving.
A recent crowdsourced, lidar-based research project adds another twist to that by promising to give every car on the road an X-ray. Until fully autonomous cars become widespread (and even then for entertainment reasons), this technology will help determine the future of road vehicles. Of course, not every vehicle can be found on the road.
Flying cars have been promised for decades – to the point that their mythical status was the subject of a hilarious (and linguistically NSFW) short by Clerks director Kevin Smith. But here in 2021 they are certainly not quite as science fiction as they used to be.
The New York Times has compared the rise (no pun intended) of flying auto startups to the path of autonomous vehicles, “from huge ambitions to multi-billion dollar investments to breakneck corporate competition, including a high profile lawsuit for alleged” intellectual property theft. It also restores the tremendous hype. ”That hype and some impressive technological advances ensure that they are not now raking in a lack of capital from avid investors.
Bloomberg recently reported on how “Airlines plan to put billions in flying taxis”. To get a glimpse of some of the big names and most exciting projects in the field, check out our roundup here.
Other futuristic modes of transport
Not only private means of transport are currently experiencing a revolution. Common forms of mass transit are also experiencing upheaval – be it the next generation of supersonic jets, giant 40-seater drone buses, or even Elon Musk’s bold claim that Space X’s Starship could transport passengers in less than two cities in the world an hour.