Travelling in the Near Future
March 21, 2023
Our future modes of travel are poised for disruptive transformation by ideas that may have existed before, but are now beginning to take shape as practical and concrete manifestations.
Flying in personalised miniature aircrafts, on-demand, is almost a reality already. While unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones, have been used extensively by industries like the military, agriculture, infrastructure maintenance, remote medical services, etc., their use for transporting passengers had been in its infancy till a few years back.
Several cities like Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Stuttgart have now surged ahead and conducted successful tests to show that drones could transport passengers over cities and even between cities. These efforts are being enabled by companies like Ascendance, Lilium, Volocopter, etc. Test flights of passenger drones/drone taxis have shown promising capabilities to transport up to five passengers to distances of over 160 kilometres at speeds reaching 320 km/h.1
While drones are suitable for short- to mid-distance commutes, hyperloop is another plausible futuristic technology that is being tested to revolutionise fast long-distance travels, which for now is completely monopolised by commercial jetplanes.
The hyperloop technology is a ground-based system in which passenger pods (like the one shown in the image on the left) travel within vacuum tubes at speeds of up to 1,200 km/h.2 As Elon Musk famously stated in his 2013 white paper titled Hyperloop Alpha, this technology could possibly reduce the travel time between San Francisco and Los Angeles to a mere 35 minutes from the present 1 hour 25 minutes on a commercial flight.3
Technologies like these have tremendous potential and are certainly going to revolutionise the future of travel and living. However, it is paramount that such technologies are:
a. Democratised: Making them accessible to multiple/all sections of society and not just a select few.
b. Harmonised: It must be ensured that these technologies are not only non-polluting in the context of our environment today, but also do not cause any latent detrimental effects decades later. We must not repeat our mistakes. The well-being, of both humans and all parts of our fragile ecosystem, must be paramount and must take precedence.
c. Integrated: From hyperloops and drone taxis to driverless cars/pods, personal mobility devices and walking—these should all form a hierarchical multi-modal system of urban commute that facilitates easy transitions from one point to another, and are seamlessly integrated into our urban fabric without dissecting and dividing it. Such a multi-modal staggered network will offer multiple choices of speed, convenience and accessibility to the future residents in our cities.
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1 Sims, Josh. Are flying taxis the future of transport? Experts say that passenger drones may take off as early as 2040 – making for a US$1.5 trillion market. South China Morning Post. [Online] May 1, 2022. https://www.scmp.com/magazines/style/newstrends/article/3176015/are-flying-taxis-future-transport-experts-say-passenger.
2 Silic, Anamaria. What Is Hyperloop and When Will It Be Ready? DISCOVER. [Online] February 14, 2021. https://www. discovermagazine.com/technology/what-is-hyperloop-and-when-will-it-be-ready.
3 Amirtha, Tina. This Hyperloop firm has yet to attempt a test run – but it’s already working on the app. ZDNET. [Online] June 17, 5 6 2016. https://www.zdnet.com/article/this-hyperloop-firm-has-yet-to-attempt-a-test-run-but-its-already-working-on-the-app/.
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