We've seen the exciting, driverless future of the London Underground, but now it's time to explore a few different methods of public transport. Put on your time-travelling hats and begin to consider the transport systems we'll all be using when Tim Cook (in robotic-humanoid form) announces the 63rd iPhone to a room full of Morlocks.
Personal rapid transit (PRT) is a form of transportation that involves small vehicles or 'pods' travelling autonomously through a guided system. If you've travelled between Heathrow Terminal 5 and the business carpark, chances are you've already been on one. The largest benefit of podcars is the relatively low infrastructure cost (just £5 million per km), this is due to its simple concrete guide system, off-the-shelf components and on-board control units. Currently only four PRT systems operate globally, but there are plans for more extensive networks in the future; Heathrow are looking to extend their system to Staines-Upon-Thames; two cities in India, Amritsar and Gurgaon are both looking at developing city-wide PRTs, as well. [Image Credit: Heathrow Airport]
MagLev is a method of transportation that replaces wheels and axles with magnetic levitation to gain lift and propulsion. MagLev provides a number of benefits over a traditional rail system: due to reduced friction, wear and tear on the rails and wheels are greatly reduced, this cuts down on the amount of maintenance work required and allows the train to travel at greater speeds for longer. MagLev trains are also less affected by weather conditions – so no more delays due to wet leaves on the rail! There are currently two commercial MagLev systems in operation, in Shanghai in China and Linimo, Japan, but many more lines have been proposed. Unfortunately there aren't any plans to replace our Victorian rail system with MagLev just yet.
Already preparing the next stage of MagLev, engineers have envisioned a MagLev train that travels in a vacuum, thus removing air resistance. Theoretically, by removing most of the drag acting on the train, it would be able to reach 5000 mph using relatively little energy. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]
Shweeb is an innovative combination of bike and monorail technology, which received a $1 million investment from Google in 2010. The system offers a number of financial, environmental and health benefits. Shweeb is powered by good-old muscle power and is capable of reaching 56 mph; when two or more pods link together this increases their capabilities, improving the aerodynamics and increasing the power output, this negotiates the need for an overtaking rail. Shweeb is currently operational in Rotorua, New Zealand, as a recreational attraction, but it's yet to take off as a method for public transport. [Image Credit: Shweeb]
SkyTran is a public transport system using pods that travel on a raised, magnetic levitation monorail. The system is incredibly economical, returning 240 mpg at speeds of 100 mph. SkyTran is slowly becoming a reality, with NASA involved in a full-scale prototype that has been successfully constructed, with testing due to begin in 2014. The first prototype will consist of a small system at the Israel Aerospace Industries campus, if this test is successful, a larger network is planned for Tel Aviv. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]
Elon Musk is Silicon Valley's big dreamer, he's brought us Tesla, SpaceX and now he wants to bring us the Hyperloop. The network operates by sending capsules through a partial vacuum on 'air-bearings'; this reduces drag and allows the capsule to travel at speeds of up to 760 mph. In 2010 Musk published a detailed document, presenting the design and economic feasibility of the project. The document estimates a total cost of £3.7 billion to construct a passenger-only version of the system, but this figure has been described as unrealistically low by transportation engineers. One year since its inception, the Hyperloop remains a pipedream, but if anyone can get it off the ground, Elon Musk can. [Image Credit: cnet]
3D Express Coach
'Nothing's worse than being stuck behind a bus', is clearly what designer Youzhou Song was thinking when he dreamt up the 3D Express Coach. The straddling bus runs along a fixed route and its design allows smaller vehicles to drive underneath, greatly reducing traffic congestion. The design was unveiled in May 2010 at the Beijing International Hi-Tech Expo, and construction was scheduled to begin later that year. I'm guessing the project has been severely postponed, because as of October 2014, construction is yet to begin. [Image Credit: Translogic]
OK, so this one might be a bit 'out there', but after experiencing the stress of modern air-travel, I can completely see the appeal of travelling by cloud. The Passing Cloud project by "factory of concepts" Tiago Barros, is a transport system that defies a predetermined route and timetable; instead it literally, goes "where the wind takes you". The structure is manufactured from a steel frame and covered in nylon fabric, but Barros gives us no clue as to how the cloud actually floats. There is no final destination: the journey becomes your destination. [Image Credit: Tiago Barros]
The Martin Jetpack
Once we finally get bored of public transport, personal jetpacks will be as prevalent as cars. The Martin Jetpack is being touted as the world's first practical jetpack, all set to revolutionise personal aviation. The company, based in New Zealand, is currently developing the system as a medical first-responder unit, but following its successful introduction they plan to further evolve the jetpack into a personal leisure vehicle. The jetpack can be flown by a pilot or via remote control and the most recent prototype has a flight capability of 30 minutes at speeds of 45 mph. Martin expect their first commercial product will be available in 2015. Better get saving. [Image Credit: Tech and All]