From our early beginnings, we have always been a mobile species. Never quite content to stay in one place for long, we’ve been devising newer and better ways of getting around.
At first, all we had were our two feet.
Then we learned we could ride animals to make long distance journeys easier, and take more with us in the bargain.
And then we had the wheel, the catalyst that has led to pretty much all types of transportation we have today.
Keep in mind that all of this happened thousands upon thousands of years ago. Since then, we’ve only kept improving with breakthroughs our ancestors would never have been able to fathom.
That was then; as for what the future of transportation in 2050 will be, for example, who knows.
We may somehow stumble onto teleportation and end up being able to travel this way and that at the blink of an eye.
Now that’s a future transportation system I’d like to see.
But, because that is quite unlikely, let’s cover what the future of transportation is actually shaping out to look like.
The Present and Future of Transportation: Electric Cars
As it stands today, the future of transportation has something we’re already using: electric cars.
Although you can pretty much guess what an electric car is based on its name, let’s do a quick overview for those who don’t know.
Electric cars, also called battery cars or electric vehicles (EV), are cars that use one or more electric motors to move instead of an internal combustion engine, and store energy in rechargeable batteries that can be plugged into charging stations or wall outlets for charging.
In terms of variety, there are three main types of electric cars:
● Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs): HEVs are powered by both gasoline and electricity, which is generated through regenerative braking, a process that uses the car’s braking system to recharge the battery.
● Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs): PHEVs are also powered by both gasoline and electricity, and can recharge their batteries through both regenerative braking and external charging stations.
● Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs): As fully electric vehicles, BEVs don’t have fuel engines or exhaust pipes, and can recharge their batteries through both regenerative braking and external charging stations.
With that in mind, even though electric cars constitute a small percentage of total global car sales, things are quickly changing now that car manufacturers like Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and more are making significant investments in them.
After all, now that more people are opting for urban life as opposed to rural, it makes sense to focus electric cars that are excellent for shorter trips and environments where infrastructure allows for multiple charging stations.
For example, take a look at some of the electric cars you'll see on the road by 2025 and what they entail (7 out of the full 30 on the list):
● Porsche will begin production on the Taycan in 2019.
○ With a range of over 300 miles per charge, Porsche has said the Taycan will have over 600 horsepower and the ability to accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than 3.5 seconds.
● Volkswagen is bringing back the minibus with the I.D. Buzz, which will hit dealerships in 2022.
○ The I.D. Buzz will feature seats that can move and rotate on tracks in the floor so owners can make the most of the space.
● Volkswagen will release its I.D. crossover SUV in 2020.
○ Volkswagen has said that the ID Crozz will have two motors, 302 horsepower and the ability to drive up to 300 miles per charge.
● Apart from the Crozz, Volkswagen also plans to release an electric compact car, the I.D., in 2020.
○ Volkswagen has said the I.D. will have 168 horsepower and a range between 249 and 373 miles.
● Jaguar will release its first fully-electric vehicle, the I-Pace, during the second half of 2018.
○ As a competitor to Tesla's Model X, the I-Pace will have 394 horsepower, 512 pound-feet of torque, up to 240 miles of range, and the ability to accelerate from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds.
● Nissan released a new version of its popular model, the Leaf, this year.
○ The 2018 Leaf has a 151-mile range, 147 horsepower, and the ability to receive 90 miles of charge in 30 minutes with a DC fast-charger.
● Nissan hopes to have the self-driving technology for its electric, autonomous IDS ready by 2020, which means we could see the IDS by 2025.
○ Drivers will have the option to drive the car manually or have it drive autonomously. In its autonomous driving mode, the steering wheel folds into the dashboard and is replaced by a tablet that can be used to control an enormous touchscreen.
The Present and Future of Transportation: Self-Driving Cars
Something else we have today that we’re going to see a lot more of in the coming years is autonomous vehicles, also called self-driving cars.
Right out of science fiction, self-driving cars use artificial intelligence (AI) and a variety of technologies like sensors and cameras to analyze the environment, allowing them to know what’s around them so they can drive without human input.
Keep in mind that not all self-driving cars are truly self-driving, as there are five levels of automation, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE):
● Level 0 - No driving automation: A human driver controls all aspects of the dynamic driving tasks, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems.
● Level 1 - Driver assistance: A human driver controls most aspects of the dynamic driving tasks, but also uses a driver assistance system of steering OR acceleration/deceleration.
● Level 2 - Partial driving automation: A human driver controls most aspects of the dynamic driving tasks, but also uses a driver assistance system of steering AND acceleration/deceleration.
● Level 3 - Automated driving (conditional): In the first level of actual automated driving, an automated driving system (ADS) controls all aspects of the dynamic driving task in dense freeway traffic at low speeds, with the expectation that the human driver will take over if automation fails.
● Level 4 - Automated driving (high): An ADS controls all aspects of the dynamic driving task within a city center (geo-fenced location), and can bring the vehicle to a full stop if automation fails.
● Level 5 - Automated driving (full): An ADS controls all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions, and can bring the vehicle to a full stop if automation fails.
When we envision future types of transportation, we usually imagine level 5 automation, in which a car can do anything and everything a human driver can.
For example, drive you to work and park itself while you walk inside, or pick up your kids from school if you’re too busy to go yourself.
All in all, driverless cars will give us the freedom to relax or be more productive, as we’ll be able to can catch up on work or sleep as they take us to and fro every day.
Contemporarily speaking, you’ve most likely heard of self-driving cars in relation to Tesla and Model S, which is their flagship vehicle that was debuted as a prototype in 2009 and has been on sale since 2012.
Apart from the AI under the hood, what makes Tesla and their cars different from average brands is that, instead of redesigning their cars for newer models, they focus on tech upgrades to make the sale.
For example, they include features like summon so their cars can pull out of a garage without a human driver, and camper-mode so humans can sleep in the car with the heat on.
The Future of Transportation: Hyperloops
And now we move onto the theoretical, i.e. hyperloops.
First proposed by Elon Musk, a hyperloop is a theoretical future transportation system that will (hopefully) be able to take people from point A to point B through steel tubes and pods.
More specifically, hyperloops will take friction and air resistance out of the equation to allow the pods to move much faster than current transportation methods.
For the former, while Musk originally suggested using air bearings to allow the pod to hover—sort of like how air hockey works—most hyperloop engineers of today think it’ll be a passive magnetic levitation system instead, which will create a magnetic field that pushes the pod along, as well as a complementary magnet system that pushes the pods every couple of miles or so.
As for the latter, the tube surrounding the pod can be vacuumed of nearly all air, leaving so little that the physics will be like those of flying at an altitude of 200,000 feet.
When combined, the lack of friction and air resistance will allow hyperloops to reach speeds approaching Mach 1 (the speed of sound), meaning that we’ll be able to travel faster while expending less energy.
In other words, we’ll have a much greener type of transportation that could also be cheaper than using planes, trains or cars.
With talks of global warming and increased pollution heavy in many people’s mind, the future of our environment does not look very well.
The future of transportation, on the other hand, looks quite bright.
For one, electric cars are slowly weaning us off our dependence on gasoline.
Second, while autonomous cars are already here, the ones of the future will lead to much safer roads, as they’ll be able to capitalize on shared information between them to react in real-time to changing traffic patterns.
And third, hyperloops will hopefully soon allow us to cross long distances in record time, and will even be greener in doing so.
Enjoy what’s to come!