The Future of Transportation

One morning you wake up in a rush, quickly eat breakfast, dress up in a haste, and pace in your living room because you have a huge presentation to deliver today at work. Your stress levels are high, as you were awake for so long working on this project, perfecting every detail, making sure everything is orderly, in place, and ready to go. You feel confident, but are nervous, because a lot rests on this meeting, your job and your success rests on this meeting, this presentation. You are ready, prepared, however what should be the least of your worries, is currently the greatest problem. Your taxi has not arrived. You’re waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Finally the taxi gets to your place and picks you up. You rush into the car, and take off. But you are faced with traffic, which is impeding not only your route to work but quite possibly, impeding you from getting to the opportunity you have desired for years, the opportunity that has been given to you which will take you to the level you want to get to and become the successful person you wanted to be. But with each read light, each halt of the car, you see the light of your opportunity getting dimmer and dimmer. Finally, you get to your office, rush up the stairs, and into your meeting room where your are greeted with a room full of annoyed faces, and one tells you, the one opportunity you craved was taken away from you and given to your colleague. Why? Because of your taxi’s late arrival, and the traffic on the road.

Today we live in a world where time is money and money dictates a lot. Every second, minute, hour, and day is valuable. Transportation has saved humans so much time. Journeys that would normally take days to complete back in the day, can be scaled in minutes with the use of transportation mechanisms that we have today. All these mechanisms start off with a goal and an idea. If Richard Trevithick had not have had an idea in 1804, we would not have the train. If Karl Benz was not ambitious, we would not have the car. If the Wright brothers were not creative, innovative, and out of the box thinkers, we would not have planes. Today, we have all of these things, but we have not stopped. We continue to move forward with our technology, so prepare yourself for a glimpse of what the future of transportation could look like.

Self Driving Cars and Uber

Uber is currently one of the biggest company in the world, evaluated at approximately $75.5 Billion. In case you somehow don’t know what Uber is, Uber is an American Company which provides a platform where those who drive and deliver can connect with riders, eaters, and restaurants.Uber is commonly used for rides, pick ups, and drop offs. Today, Uber is one of the largest users of self-driving cars. They have created a phenomenal system which is generating a more futuristic, efficient, and safe ride for their users.

How do their self-driving cars work?

Uber equips their cars with 360 degrees system of cameras, lasers, and radar that are used to scan the environment to ensure vehicle awareness. These systems are able to identify on going traffic, pedestrians, stop-signs, and traffic signals. Since, the self-driving cars have not been completely perfected, Uber trains vehicle operators to prevent one-offs from happening. Both vehicles and operators are tested to ensure safety and readiness for the unexpected. Once passed the tests, vehicles are then sent to capture and collect data for the Uber map-makers. The map-makers are responsible for identifying every road, traffic signal, along with many other components on the street. The systems are then matched and made ready for the vehicle to use and available to the public. Each new update is designed to improve the self-driving cars and better the overall experience for Uber’s users. In 2019, Uber had 250 autonomous cars that had driven millions of miles and provided rides to thousands of people. Uber’s overall mission with these self-driving cars is to provide a safe, more efficient, and more affordable transportation method for people everywhere. So, while Uber is using self-driving cars, the question to be answered is, why?

Why use self-driving cars?

The National Safety Council reported that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. Approximately 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving. 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. What do all these facts portray? Well it portrays the distractions humans face when driving. Along with texting, numerous people eat, drink, chat, and do various other actions that are unsafe while driving. While tickets are given to those who execute these tasks, more than half of these drivers are not caught. Furthermore, a simple ticket is not going to compensate for the lives lost in a car accident caused by speeding, drinking and driving or texting.

In order to eliminate or at least decline the accident rates, self driving cars will come in clutch. The dangerous actions people do while driving is eliminated by self driving cars. These cars are never texting, sleeping, or drunk. They are always aware and informed about their surroundings and are less likely to make the simple mistakes we do, saving thousands and thousands of lives. So while self-driving cars seem extremely fascinating, which they are, they are also used for a greater purpose of saving and improving lives. Now that we’ve looked at the incredible possibilities on the road, let’s take a different route, and switch to trains.

Hyperloop

Hyperloop is a project that was introduced by one of the greatest minds on the planet, Elon Musk in 2013. It was created due to his passion and vision of achieving a more efficient, safe, and cheap method of transportation. Hyperloop has the potential to reach speeds of up to 750 m/h inside. low-pressure tubes. This image below is what hyperloop looks like.

How it works?

The concept of Hyperloop consists of passenger pods or capsules which travel through a tube, either above or below ground. In order to reduce the friction inside these tubes, most of the air is removed by virtue of pumps.

Overcoming the large amounts of air resistance is essential for high speed travel. For example, airplanes and helicopters, along with other aircraft rise to higher altitudes in order to travel through air that is less dense. Since Hyperloop does not travel at high altitudes, it functions in enclosed tubes which are pressure-reduced, allowing these trains to travel at the high speeds of aircrafts while being on the ground.

The Hyperloop capsules are designed to float above the tube’s surface on a set of 28 air-bearing skis. This is similar to how a puck floats on an air hockey table however the one major difference is that it is the pod instead of the track , that produces the air cushion.

The pod is to receive its initial velocity from an external electric motor, which would accelerate it and then give it a boost every 70 miles or so. Musk plans on using solar panels to generate the energy the system needs to run. Each capsule could carry 28 passengers along with some form of baggage and luggage. There are other version to be designed specifically for car go and vehicles. The pods are meant to depart every two minutes however this time is fluctuating based on the time of the day. Here is a quick video highlighting how Hyperloop works.

Virgin Hyperloop One

Virgin Hyperloop One is one of the major companies with the same goals and aspirations regarding Hyperloop as Elon. Virgin Hyperloop One was founded in 2014 and has raised approximately $295 million. It has projects in Missouri, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, the Midwest, India, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Its main focus at the moment is in India where they aim to create the first functioning Hyper loop system. Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin group stated “I believe Virgin Hyperloop One could have the same impact upon India in the 21st century as trains did in the 20th century”.

The Boring Company

The Boring Company is another company started by Elon Musk. His goal with this company is to make it easier and faster to dig tunnels between cities to make cool projects such as Hyperloop a reality. The price of digging a tunnel typically costs $1 billion, however, Elon aims to make it possible for just one-tenth of that price. It plans on doing this by making and using more efficient digging machines that are electronic rather than diesel-powered.

Although Elon envisions using these tunnels as a platform for hyperloop trains, his main vision regarding these tunnels is focussed at a different project. Loop.

Loop

Loop is a system that Elon Musk is super interested in. It is a system that is similar to hyper loop but is made up of autonomous electric skates traveling at 125 to 150 miles per hour. These electric skates can carry either 8–16 passengers in an enclosed compartment or a single passenger vehicle. It works when passengers or vehicles enter the autonomous pods. They do this at street level but are then carried down by elevators which take them underground. From there the journey of the vehicle/passengers would begin avoiding traffic they would find on street level and traveling at 125 miles per hour, drastically making their route more efficient. Loop is a project Elon Musk is hard at work at with the help of his Boring Company. His ambitious goal really may revolutionize all forms of travel.

Future of Hyperloop, Loop, and the Boring Company

The future of these projects are bright. There are many companies around the world investing time and money into Hyperloop, a system that could really shift the was we use transportation today. Hyperloop and loop could be as essential of innovations as the train and the plane were. With the climate crisis and other problems at hand, these two projects have the potential to become an everyday part of our reality and it’s only a matter of time until they really do.

Now that we have looked at the cool projects on and sub ground, lets fly high and shift our attention to the sky.

Future in the Sky

We have already talked about the phenomenal work Uber is doing with its belief in self-driving cars, however they have not stopped there. Uber has decided to take its talents into the air challenging other companies to catch up.

Uber Air

Uber Air plans on using a helicopter-like, however fully electric, 0 carbon-emitting, aircraft. The Uber Air system is similar to the regular Uber service. Riders book a lift through the mobile Uber App, and then access the roof of a nearby building, which Uber calls “Skyport”. From there, passengers have a brief security check along with a weight check to measure compatibility. The passenger is then ready to board Uber Air and enjoy the ride. As of right now, Uber Air has not been implemented but is still an on-going project. To get this project flying, Uber needs to make sure that they have the proper Skyport Infrastructure, in-placed Air-space Management Systems and properly targeted cities to launch their service. Uber Air has created a set of indicators which help them decide which cities are viable for the Uber Air services. Some of their measurements include, size/land area, population/population density, traffic congestion, and stable environmental conditions. Uber Air believes their services will be ready in 2023 and will launch is LA, Dallas, and Melbourne, three cities that meet all their required criteria. Though 2023 seems far away, as Uber has said “Closer than you think”.

While maintaining our attention on vehicles in the air, let’s switch our focus to a different form of aircrafts, SuperSonic Jets!

SuperSonic Jets

The Concorde, in 1976 was the first Supersonic aircraft to ever enter the commercial service. It created quite the boom, both literally and figuratively, however in 2003 the services of supersonic jets were called off, for a plethora of reasons. One of the major problem was the extremely high prices to ride. These jets were very expensive to book a ticket for and carried a small number of passengers, making the jet inefficient and expensive. However, this was not the biggest issue with these jets. The largest issue with these jets were the Supersonic Boom it created. These Supersonic Jets are very fast, faster than the speed of sound, and when these planes exceed the speed of sound, they create a MASSIVE BOOM. These booms are so powerful that they can be heard on the ground, similar to a lightning strike. These sonic booms have enough power to shake villages and neighborhoods, and as a result these supersonic jets were not allowed to fly over land.

These two problems were the driving force of shutting down these commercial Supersonic Jets however, NASA is currently on the mission of bringing these fascinating jets back.

The Return of the Supersonic Jets

NASA is working with aerospace company Lockheed Martin, is creating a supersonic aircraft which is much quieter and softer than the older and original ones. It is called the X-59 and it can fly at these great supersonic speeds but instead of creating the disorderly and troublesome booms, it creates softer “thumps”. In 2018, it completed a successful test at a NASA Flight Research Center located in California. Due to the projects of NASA and Lockheed Martin, other companies like Boeing are looking into the possibilities of the return of these jets. However, the question that still remains is, how did NASA manage to minimize the effects of the boom.

The key design aspect of the X-59 which leads to a reduced boom effect is the unique shape of its structure. The X-59 is shaped in a way which does not allow supersonic shockwaves to build up into powerful booms. While, the plane does reduce the effects of the boom, it doesn’t eliminate, and therefore there will still be multiple shockwaves because of the wings on the aircraft which create the volume of the plane and the lift. However, Ed Haering, an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center says, “But the airplane’s shape is carefully tailored such that those shockwaves do not combine. Instead of getting a loud boom-boom, you’re going to get at least two quiet thump-thump sounds, if you even hear them at all.” Now although the X-59 is not meant to be used for commercial purposes, and is not meant to carry passenger, the technology it uses to reduce the effects of the boom, is a technology that other companies can implement and bring back commercial Supersonic jets.

Overall, both Uber Air and Supersonic Jets are an innovation which has potential to drastically impact the way we travel today. Uber Air can dramatically reduce the traffic we face on the roads, and can decrease the times of our daily journeys. The Supersonic Jets if commercialized, can reduce the the times of normal flights we take today by half. Journeys that would normally take 8 hours, could be cut to 4, through the implementation of supersonic jets. Both of these innovations could become a realistic part of our future and a crazy cool technology too!

SpaceX

SpaceX is yet another company started by Elon Musk, this one created with the desire and ambition to make space travel an affordable reality for all citizens. Along with this mission, a goal of Elon Musk is to be able to colonize Mars and through this company he is making steps of making this goal a reality. This video here gives a great picture of the interplanetary system SpaceX has visioned.

Recently, SpaceX became the first private company in the United States to launch a spacecraft. This spacecraft successfully made it to the International Space Station and was a great accomplishment for the ambitious SpaceX crew. Musk aims to send 1 million people to Mars by 2050 and as of right now, even an attempt for humans to go to the moon has not been made. This first success however, is assuring that the team is headed in the right direction.

The Future

In summary, the future of transportation is bright. From self driving cars, to hyperloop, to supersonic jets, to Uber Air, all of these technologies have the potential to become a practical and reasonable part of our future. Throughout our time on Earth the transportation field has continued to evolve. We started off on foot, then to horses and camels, then to boats, then to cars and trains, and planes, and rockets, but as we can see there are no plans to stop here. As innovators and creators, we keep aspiring to build fascinating new forms of transportation which we hope will drive us to the future. Time flies fast and it will feel like yesterday when these projects were just getting started, but soon we will see these technologies in our lives all over the planet. It’s only a matter of time!

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Aahil Noorali

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