Supersonic 2.0, driverless cars, and a realized 1960s vision will redefine how we move around the world.
Faster Than a Speeding Bullet
It’s supersonic! While Richard Branson aims for his spaceline, Virgin Galactic, to put its first passengers into suborbital flight this year, and Elon Musk aspires to Martian landings in 2022, the entrepreneurs are also launching more down-to-earth pursuits. Branson has placed orders for Boom’s 55-passenger supersonic jet, which will cruise above the clouds at up to 1,451 mph. The nascent manufacturer currently has more than 75 orders from five airlines and says we can expect NYC-to-London flights by 2023: three-hour, 20-minute hops for the price of today’s business-class flights (about $5,000 round-trip) – quicker and much cheaper than the now-defunct Concorde.
Both Branson and Musk are also testing hyperloop systems to revolutionize rail transportation. The big idea: whisk levitating passenger and cargo pods through giant pneumatic tubes at roughly 700 mph, which would make the journey from L.A. to San Francisco a mere 35 minutes. Musk’s test pods have already hit 220 mph; his tunneling company has begun test-boring in L.A. and is laying the groundwork for an NYC-to-Washington, D.C., route as well. Virgin Hyperloop One is currently evaluating projects in the Middle East, Europe, Canada, and the U.S.
Hail George Jetson
Send in the drones: The flying cars futurists promised us are revving up in the United Arab Emirates. In September, Dubai began tests of its Autonomous Air Taxi with a maiden flight of 18-propeller, pilotless aircraft from Volocopter, the latest step in the country’s goal of launching an app-hailed flying-taxi service within the next five years. Flying ride shares aren’t just pie-in-the-sky ambition from the destination that introduced us to artificial-island resorts and indoor ski slopes: Uber is developing air-control software with NASA and is looking to launch zero-emission, piloted taxis cruising up to 200 mph in the skies of Dallas, Dubai, and Los Angeles by 2020. Airbus, Boeing, and a handful of other manufacturers are developing autonomous and piloted craft for similar services.
“KITT, pick me up on Mill Avenue,” isn’t a far-fetched call for barhoppers in Phoenix, who may soon ride home in Waymo’s self-driving cars. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has hit the airwaves and billboards around the area to introduce its new driverless ride-share service. After racking up more than 3 million test miles, the company launched its early rider program, a trial period in which residents used the service – with an employee on board to take control if need be – for school drop-offs, errands, date nights, and general commuting free of charge. In November, the company proclaimed success and removed the backup drivers. A public rollout is expected imminently.