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Hold the hovercraft: These technologies are reinventing transportation

Martyn Williams | Sept. 23, 2015
Cars are so 20th century.

Google self driving car
Credit: Martyn Williams

Transportation has always been a big part of our far-out visions of the future, whether we imagine flying cars, ultra-fast tubes or Star Trek-style contraptions. While chances are slim that we'll be de-materializing and re-materializing in another spot anytime soon, fast-advancing technology will change the way we get from point A to point B in the near future. Here are the most promising advances.


Undoubtedly, the Hyperloop is the most futuristic of current transportation proposals. Put forward by Tesla and Space X founder Elon Musk, the Hyperloop is envisaged as a steel tube along which pods about the size of cars travel at up to 760 miles per hour (1,220 kmph) -- faster than jet aircraft.

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An artist's image of a proposed Hyperloop transport system under development by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. Credit: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

The Hyperloop tube is kept at a partial vacuum, reducing air resistance, and each pod sits on a cushion of air similar to the way a puck sits on an air hockey table. The pods are propelled and slowed by linear induction motors placed at regular intervals along the tube, and a large fan at the front of the pod forces air in front of the pod to behind it, avoiding a pressure build-up that would otherwise slow the craft.

Musk reckons a Hyperloop trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles would take about 35 minutes -- faster than flying and a huge improvement over the 6-hour car journey.

But it's still a dream. Engineers at Musk's companies worked on designs for Hyperloop for a year, but it remains just a concept. To help push it forward, a 57-page white paper detailing the work was published online in August 2013 and Musk asked people to build and improve upon it.

Some are already doing that.

Hyperloop Technologies in Los Angeles envisages the system will be used to transport freight, not people, and one of the routes it's looking at would connect Las Vegas and California. Another would ferry goods up and down the U.S. Pacific coast, and there is even talk of one connecting the manufacturing hubs of Asia with North America.

A company with a similar name, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, already has 400 people working on plans for an actual service -- but don't get too excited. It will run about 5 miles in Quay Valley, a proposed eco-city in central California that itself is a grandiose plan and yet to be built. The service could start as soon as 2018, but $100 million in funding is required ... as is a town and its residents.


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