It is often said that the world has now become a “global village” due to enhanced transportation and communication. Communication technology has made interaction between distant people easy, whereas it is thanks to modern transportation methods that you can now easily travel from one corner of the world to the other corner within a matter of hours.
Primitive transportation systems included just a few animals and wheeled carts. As civilization advanced, we came up with many new vehicles, ranging from trains to motorcars to ships to airplanes; and still our quest for even faster and more reliable transport system continues. In this article, we will be looking at 6 potential transportation systems of the future.
1. Personal Air Vehicle
Generally known as flying cars, PAVs are an emerging aviation market which provide on-demand aviation services. The term ‘PAV’ was initiated by NASA in 2003 when it launched PAVSP (Personal Air Vehicle Sector Project), as part of the Aeronautics Vehicle Systems Program.
As per NASA, any flying vehicle can be classified as a PAV if it has seat capacity of less than 5 passengers, a speed of 150-200 mph and a range of about 800 miles. Due to several ongoing research projects, a PAV challenge organized by NASA and funding from several organizations, such as the EU, there is great potential that PAVs will one day be deployed into the public market.
A jetpack is a device that is propelled by jets of emitted gases, which can propel the user into the air/space. The concept of the jetpack arose from science fiction and its history dates back to 1960. It has since been repeatedly featured in literature, movies, video games and research projects and has now become a reality.
The common fuels for jetpacks are hydrogen peroxide, an oxygen-hydrocarbon mixture, or jet fuel, among others. However, there are many obstacles to the use of jetpacks for transport, like atmospheric friction and our planet’s gravity, low energy density of available fuels and short flight period due to the small size of fuel packs.
The current prototypes of jetpacks have a small range and height, high fuel consumption and a maximum flight period of only about 10 minutes. Yet, one among the numerous ongoing research projects to enhance the performance of jetpacks might just bring us good news someday, which could make it possible to use them for things like airport transfer.
3. Backpack Helicopter
A backpack helicopter is a device that consists of a motor-rotor system, can be worn on a person’s back like a backpack and uses driven-air current to propel the user into the air. The working mechanism of backpack helicopters is the same as in regular helicopters, except that the rotors in backpack helicopters are contra-rotating so as to reduce the turning motion and rotate at a fixed pitch for simplicity, unlike full-scale helicopters.
They often use a safety harness with a strap to be placed between the legs to prevent the user from falling out of the harness. Some backpack helicopters also provide a seat for the pilot. Besides the portrayal of backpack helicopters in popular culture, many working models of backpack helicopters have already been developed. It might, however, take some time to prepare this transportation system to be launched on a large public scale.
4. Hover Car
A hover car is a personal vehicle, pretty much like a car, but which is able to fly at a constant altitude of about a few meters. This new brand of car has been widely portrayed in science fiction and popular culture for a long time, but is now closer to being a reality.
The theoretical mechanism of a hover car, as described in science fiction, is such that it uses some short-range anti-gravity phenomenon against frictional forces, which enables it to easily hover above the ground and travel at great speed. A hover car doesn’t produce dust cloud, unlike an air-cushion vehicle.
The closest existing counterparts of hover cars are hovercraft and hover trains. There have been numerous attempts to develop a real hover car since 1958, but so far a hovering altitude of only about few inches has been achieved. Researchers may be close to designing and deploying hover cars that can speed up to 1500 miles per hour in the near future.
Contrary to the regular trend of a moving vehicle/user on a stationary track, slidewalk is a conceptual transport system which consists of a moving track that can transport people and objects from one place to another.
As with many other inventions, the idea of the slidewalk came from science fiction, and has been portrayed in many books, like H.G. Well’s “When the Sleeper Wakes,” Arthur C. Clark’s “The city and the stars” and even in the “The Jetsons” cartoon series.
Theoretically, slidewalks are structurally strong enough to even support buildings and a large population of travelers, and have an average speed of about 37 miles per hour. Existing examples of transport system similar to slidewalk are conveyor belts, used to transport goods within a production factory, and the “people movers” in some large airports. These examples stand out as a hope that one day we can really bring slidewalks into practice.
6. Space Elevators
Space elevators are a proposed system that can be used for space transportation. Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first conceptualized space elevators back in the late 19th century.
The idea is to anchor a tensile structure (preferably a cable), called a tether, to the planet’s surface, extend it vertically into space/the sky and add a counterweight to it, such that the center of mass for the overall system lies above the geostationary orbit.
The interaction between outward centrifugal force and downward gravitational force causes the tether to be tense and remain stationary over a single position relative to the planet. Any object (called a climber) can climb up the tether by mechanical means, release the cargo (craft, satellite, etc.) into the geostationary orbit and descend when the job is done. It serves literally as an elevator up into space.
The challenge is to find a cable material that is both strong and light, such as carbon nano-tubes (CNT). The first construction of boron nitride nanotubes and diamond nanothreads were great breakthroughs in 2014 and have multiplied the chances of the earth’s first space elevator being built.
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