From horses to camels to railroads to Interstate highways, humans have always sought faster and more convenient ways to move around the planet. The next decade or so will see the sort of radical advances in transportation technology that used to take a century. Electric vehicles represent only one of several new and improved modes of transport that will be coming into widespread use.
A new infographic (featured below) from The Zebra, an insurance comparison resource, illustrates some of the high-tech vehicles that may soon become common sites on land and in the air, and it’s interesting to note how many of these will benefit from the vision of the entrepreneurial polymath Elon Musk. While some of these ideas (e.g., flying hotel pods) aren’t exactly on Musk’s “to do” list, it’s clear he’ll leave his mark on the future of transportation — whatever it might be.
Throughout history, the prospect of getting around more quickly has been a major motivator behind advances in transport tech. However, the coming revolution is also being driven by several other objectives. The goals of today’s transport visionaries include: reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; preventing deaths from road accidents; alleviating congestion in ever-more densely populated cities; and lifting people out of poverty by making it easier and safer for them to get to work and bring their products to market.
Of course, speed is an important consideration, and not only because it’s fun to go fast (as anyone who’s experienced the Tesla Smile can attest). Many of us spend a tremendous amount of time commuting, and that time could be put to far more productive use. Getting around faster could deliver a number of practical benefits.
The Zebra identifies several new vehicles and related technologies that are beginning to transform transportation, including: maglev trains and their logical successor, the Hyperloop; driverless cars; micromobility (e-bikes and scooters); delivery drones and flying taxis; smart roads and underground tunnels.
Tesla Model X inside The Boring Company’s test tunnel underneath the SpaceX offices (Image: The Boring Company)
Elon Musk is an exceptionally keen observer of all things to do with transportation, and when he sees a problem, his impulse seems to be to come up with a new program, or even a whole new company, to solve it. He believes that self-driving cars will make road travel safer, saving countless lives. Tesla has been the leader in vehicle autonomy tech since the introduction of Model S, and although major auto OEMs and tech giants are also diligently pursuing autonomy, Elon’s team remains at the forefront of the field.
Elon also understands that, for all modes of transportation, crowded cities are rapidly running out of space to accommodate the infrastructure. Tunnels aren’t a new technology, but the Boring Company is bringing the latest advances to bear to make them cheaper to build.
One of Elon’s most ambitious ideas is the Hyperloop, an entirely new mode of transport that enables trains (or individual pods, perhaps containing cars) to travel at near-sonic speeds in a friction-free vacuum tube. SpaceX hosts a yearly competition to promote development of the technology, and teams around the world are working on Hyperloop systems. How close to reality is the Hyperloop? Missouri lawmakers just voted to make grants available for builders of a Hyperloop test track in the state.
The Iron Man has also thrown some truly wild ideas out there, such as intercity rocket travel that could allow us to go “anywhere on Earth in under an hour.” And don’t forget the Roadster SpaceX package, which will feature rocket thrusters and might even be able to fly for short distances.
Whatever our solar system’s transport system looks like a hundred years from now, it’s certain that Elon Musk will be remembered as one of its pioneers.
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