Traffic jams, air pollution, accidents – these are some of the problems to do with getting around in towns or on longer journeys that you might often hear about. But away from the news headlines, people are working on all kinds of fixes.
We’ve talked before about transport solutions, from the simple bicycle to high-tech electric cars and even electric planes. But what about Urbanloop, which set a world record last month for an electric vehicle that uses hardly any electricity? Or the start of tests in China for a train that could “fly” faster than a plane?
Here’s what the future might hold for all of us…
In 3 years, destination 2024: Urbanloop
Urbanloop may well be at the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024. And no, it won’t be a move in the skateboard competition. Urbanloop is a system of interconnected loops of electric railway where you can hop into your own personal, computer-controlled capsule and get across town in a few minutes.
It’s the brainchild of Jean-Philippe Mangeot and his students at the University of Lorraine at Nancy, in northeastern France. The idea came to Jean-Philippe 4 years ago when he was stuck in a traffic jam (of course!). It’s designed to be fast, easy to use and be planet-friendly, using little power and with an eye on recycling.
Last month, Urbanloop was invited to show what it can do during the Paris Olympics in 3 years’ time.
As part of the preparations, Jean-Philippe and his team set a record by running their little 2-person capsule around their test track. It used just half a euro of electricity to go a kilometre at 50 kilometres an hour – that’s about a third of what an electric car would use. All aboard the Urbanloop!
In 6 years, zoom to 2027: Hyperloop
Could we be speeding across country in trains faster than a plane in just 6 years? That’s the dramatic claim made last month by Josh Giegel, who’s building the Virgin Hyperloop in the desert outside Las Vegas in the United States.
Six months ago, Josh and his colleague Sara Luchian were the first two brave people to try out the system. It works with a complicated system of magnets and electric motors driving a “pod” through a tube with no air in it. Inside the pod, there’s air to breathe, but outside in the tube, there’s a vacuum – no air to slow the pod down.
Josh and Sara travelled at 160 kilometres an hour, a bit faster than a car speeding along a motorway and half the top speed of the world’s fastest trains.
But Josh’s ambition is to get 28-passenger pods travelling at up to 1,200 km/h. That’s four times the fastest normal train and faster even than most passenger planes, which go about 900 km/h.
Josh told the Reutersnews agency in an interview last month that he thought Hyperloop could carry its first passengers in 2027.
The ideas for a vacuum-train and magnets that make a train hover without touching a track have been around for a long time. But in the past few years, new technology is starting to make it more possible.
Some engineers are still very doubtful about Hyperloop, which is a name made up in 2012 by Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla electric cars and SpaceX rockets. But more and more people are trying to make the idea work.
Last month, Chinese engineers started building test for hyperloop system there.
Imagine one day, being able to go, say, from Edinburgh to London by train in just half an hour, instead of over 4 hours today, or from Brussels to Amsterdam in 15 minutes instead of 2 hours!
In 30 years? Hail a heli-taxi for 2050!
Did you know that flying cars have been buzzing around our cities for over a century? Well, they have at least in made-up stories and fantasy films.
But with experts predicting that more and more of us will live in bigger and bigger cities, the idea of flying taxis is being worked on today by lots of engineers in real life. Some experts think that by 2050, little electric helicopters and drones could be a familiar sight ferrying people across towns.
You don’t need to wait 30 years to see one, though. A German company called Volocopter is planning to test its Volocity electric air-taxi near Paris in the next few weeks. Like Urbanloop, it hopes to be able to show off what it can do when the Olympic Games come to the French capital in 3 years’ time.
The company imagines it carrying people from airports into city centres and thinks it could be operating for real from about 2030.
The Volocity looks a bit like a big toy drone, with 18 sets of rotor blades. It carries two people, but a pilot is optional. In other words, it can be controlled by someone working on a computer on the ground without having a pilot on board. Would you want to fly in one?!