Jared Kosters

An artist's rendering sketch of the Hyperloop high-speed transportation system

RichMacf, Wikimedia

Have you ever pondered what transportation will look like in the next several decades? Researchers are developing the technological precursors for systems that resemble futuristic science fiction inventions.

Some technologies are still being conceptualized, while others are inching closer to the stages of commercialization. Nevertheless, all designers have three common goals in mind: energy savings, increased safety, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Here are just a few applications that could revolutionize the landscape of transportation:

Hyperloop Transportation: It may not take you across the country, but the Hyperloop (shown in the image above) would theoretically traverse distances of up to 900 miles, transport over 800 passengers per hour, and reach destinations faster than a commercial airplane. This high-speed electric transportation capsule combines low-pressure tubes with electromagnetic accelerators. In a sense, you would glide from city to city similar to that of a puck on an air hockey table. Even though engineers debate the capital cost of using this transportation system to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco, the Hyperloop’s design includes solar panels and a regenerative braking system to provide attractively low energy costs. When the technology’s inventor, Elon Musk, isn’t conjuring up the future of ground (or underground) transportation, he’s busy developing rockets capable of taking humans to Mars.

Driverless Automobiles: While sipping your coffee and scanning your smart phone on the way to work, your autonomous vehicle could navigate the roads for you – platooning with other vehicles to optimize traffic patterns and create aerodynamically-favorable slipstreams of lower air resistance. However, the most significant benefit of autonomous self-driving vehicles is not in energy savings or emission reductions, but rather safety. According to a 2008 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 90 percent of vehicle accidents are caused by human error. Self-driving cars will not only prevent the vast majority of vehicle accidents, but they will not require an expensive overhaul of our existing infrastructure of roads.

Windowless Aircraft: If you suffer from claustrophobia, you might be reluctant to fly inside of a windowless aircraft. On the other hand, organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) can make it possible to transform the inside of a plane’s fuselage into a massive video screen to make it seem as if there are no walls at all. Airplane windows require a lot of structural reinforcement to be safe for flight, which contributes a significant amount of weight to the aircraft. The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) recently stated that for every 1 percent of weight reduction, the approximate fuel savings is 0.75 percent, which also reduces CO2 emissions. Additionally, windowless airplanes are safer and can be manufactured for a fraction of the cost.

The inherent convenience of these technologies makes it easy to forget the benefits in safety, cost, and emissions. Intelligent software solutions, novel manufacturing processes, and innovative designs are leading to revolutionary transportation systems that will improve our lives in many ways.