From horse and carriage, diesel engine automobiles, electric cars, to Hyperloop’s transport system, the transport sector has changed a lot over the last 150 years. And so have our surroundings. To cope with the growing number of cars and increasing speed, we had to invest in roads and parking places, seatbelts and airbags and in speed bumps and traffic lights. What else will the future bring us?
In popular culture there are often references to the future of transport. Some of these are still years away from becoming reality (The Transport Machine, “Beam me up, Scotty”, from Star Trek), while others have already entered the market (hoover boards from Back to the Future).
Electric, solar, hydrogen and wind-powered cars
Investing in new kinds of transport does not only come from an entertainment point of view. Our generation is forced to come up with more sustainable transport solutions as we are running out of fossil fuels. Following are a few types of cars that are changing one of our most common ways of transportation:
- Electric cars. Although electric cars were already popular in the 1880s, the advance of cheaper gasoline vehicles started a decline in electric cars. A short-lived revival came along with the 1980s oil crisis, but the electric car has only fully gained interested in 2008. By the late 2000’s due to advances in batteries and energy management, concerns about increasing oil prices, and the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels, more electric cars were manufactured. Many governments worldwide have since then established policies and economic incentives to stimulate the transition to electric cars. And critics for the limited distance an electric can drive can be silenced, since Quantino has proven it can go for 1000 kilometers on one tank.
- Solar cars. While electric cars have made it as a consumer good, most solar cars are still only used for solar car races. Solar cars combine technology commonly used in aerospace, bicycle, alternative energy and automotive industries. They only run on power from the sun, which the photovoltaic cells (PV cells) on the solar array can convert into electricity. The current record for the fastest solar car goes to eVe, built by Australian students. The car travels with a speed of 107 kilometers per hour.
- Hydrogen cars. Inside a hydrogen car, the chemical energy of hydrogen is converted into mechanical energy either by burning the hydrogen (internal combustion energy) or by reacting the hydrogen with oxygen (fuel cell). The byproduct of this process is water, so yes, it’s a very sustainable way of transport. However, hydrogen is not a natural product, it needs to be created from renewable sources which makes it an expensive process. One of the companies to keep an eye on is HyperSolar which is creating hydrogen from solar energy. Hydrogen is already used in a great deal of space shuttles and rockets.
- Wind-powered cars. While wind-powered vehicles are primarily used in sailing, recently the automotive industry has started tests with wind-powered cars. Wikipedia mentions five successful vehicles: The Ventomobile, Spirit of Amsterdam (1 and 2), Mercedes-Benz Formula Zero, Greenbird (203 km/h!), Blackbird, which all use a wind turbine and light design to propel the car forward.
Connectivity is a major issue; no matter where you are, you need to be online to get the latest traffic report, be able to find a parking spot or reserve a place in the restaurant you’re heading to. Most of the cars are already able to play music, use smartphone apps, navigation, roadside assistance, voice commands, parking apps, engine controls and car diagnosis.
Not only cars can benefit from connectivity in terms of safety and convenience, but also other vehicles: truck platooning, smart bikes and smart scooters.
From smart to genius: autonomous vehicles
Many machines work without an operator, planes have an autopilot, Mars has its own rover and even your vacuum cleaner is doing its job by himself. But where are the self-driving cars? Should we build them ourselves, like this 26-year-old hacker did?
Autonomous vehicles would be able to detect their surroundings with radar, lidar, GPS, Odometry and computer vision, while advanced control systems identify navigation paths, obstacles and signage. Great for all road users: trucks, bikes, drone taxis, busses, trains and cars.
Some benefits include:
- Avoiding traffic collisions caused by human errors
- Everyone can use the car: blind, under age, intoxicated, etc.
- More options for parking
- More time for leisure activities or work while commuting
Some challenges include:
- It will take time to replace all the non-autonomous cars
- Implementation of legal framework, e.g. liability
- Loss of driving-related jobs
- Car computers might be compromised
But the most exciting project? Hyperloop!
Elon Musk’s new brainchild Hyperloop is a concept for a high-speed ground transport system that works with vacuum tubes. It would be able to send both cargo and people in a wagon capsule at the speed of 1200 km/h. The system would reduce the travel time between Los Angeles to San Francisco from 6 hours to 30 minutes. Hyperloop’s ultra-efficient form of transportation will be faster, safer, cheaper and 100% powered by clean energy.
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