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A look down the road ahead… and overhead

Written by: Alexa Stone

The futuristic transportation we have only known in science fiction movies is now in development. Concepts that stirred our imagination as we read about them and saw them on film are now being assembled in labs and test facilities. Over the next decade, we’ll hear them whoosh along rails, buzz overhead, and glide past us as we drive our soon-to-be outdated vehicles.

Magnetically-Levitated (Maglev) Trains

The Incheon Maglev

Maglev is already here. In fact, the concept was introduced in Birmingham, England in 1984. It is based on electromagnetic suspension, propelled by means of linear induction. Over the 20 years that followed, similar prototype systems were implemented in Berlin and Shanghai. In Nagoya, Japan a 5.5-mile track carried over 10 million fairgoers and is still in commercial operation.

Maglev development continues. Another commercial system, also in Japan, opened last year at Incheon. It is 3.8 miles long and automated.

The International Maglev Board (IMB) lists the status of projects worldwide. Five are now in development. A dozen more are being considered and, according to the IMB, a few have been abandoned.

Mass Transit tubes

A concept similar to maglev would send freight and passenger pods through low-pressure tubes at speeds faster than aircraft.

Elon Musk, the visionary leader of Tesla and SpaceX,  first proposed the concept in 2012. He named it Hyperloop. The next year, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) was founded. HTT plans to offer high-speed travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It also has a feasibility study underway with the government of Abu Dhabi.

Another organization, TransPod, intends to achieve speeds in excess of 600 miles per hour with a different pod design and using solar energy. Their target date for a commercial vehicle is 2020.

Delivery drones

Flying burritos have been sighted over Blacksburg, Virginia.

As alarming…. or perhaps just peculiar… as that may sound, aerial delivery has arrived. Alphabet (Google) is testing the use of drones to bring Chipotle food to Virginia Tech.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation currently makes drones impractical for routine food and package deliveries.  Per the FAA, drone operators must keep their aircraft within their line of sight. Still, better technology and updated rules are expected to clear that hurdle by 2020, then widespread drone delivery is anticipated.

Driverless cars

If you live in Pittsburgh or Phoenix, driverless cars may have motored past you. They’re on the streets today, being tested by both Uber and Waymo (an Alphabet/Google company). Financial disputes and crashes with no serious injuries have challenged continued progress, but testing continues.

Rideshare fleets are scheduled to be online by 2020. Auto dealerships should have them for consumer purchase by 2025.

Personal aircraft

With or without drivers, our vehicles may take to the air.

Another visionary leader, Larry Page (Alphabet CEO), founded Kitty Hawk Corporation. The Kitty Hawk flyer, now in prototype, is an ultralight personal aircraft that would not require a pilot’s license.

The flyer… or a future iteration… may one day carry commuters above traffic. Uber is considering the possibility of a flying taxi, to be available by 2023.

While challenges and budget cuts are inevitable detours ahead, progress will continue as taxpayers and private-sector entrepreneurs pursue their transportation visions. It’s happening now! We’re seeing sci-fi technologies today on our streets and in the skies.