Space elevators and hyperloops: the future of travel

From Elon Musk’s city-to-city elevated transit system, to Japanese construction company Obayashi Corp’s plan to drop cables from a spaceship, Vision rounds up the most fantastical ways that we might, one day, get from A to B 

Skylon-the Mach 5 space plane

Imagine a passenger plane that can fly anywhere in the world in just four hours. This vision is becoming a reality as engineers at British firm Reaction Engines develop Skylon, the Mach-5 (five times the speed of sound) 300-seat passenger plane. Skylon would be fitted with a Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (Sabre), an incredibly effective, revolutionary design featuring a heat exchanger with the ability to cool air from 1,000C to 150C in one hundredth of a second, enabling the engine to use air as fuel rather than oxygen from a tank. Skylon operates as a traditional jet engine at take-off and ascent, before "transforming" into a powerful hydrogen-burning rocket engine to send the Skylon at Mach 5 beyond Earth's atmosphere. The Skylon is then able to operate like a plane and re-enter the atmosphere, before landing on a normal runway. Testing is due to begin in 2019.

Reaction Engines
Engineers at Reaction Engines are making a 300-seat passenger plane that can travel five times the speed of sound

Space Elevators, Obayashi Corp

In Obayashi’s pioneering vision, a cable would stretch from the Earth’s surface anchored at a spaceport in the ground, 36,000km skywards to a new space station. The cable would be fitted with a counterweight floating 96, 000km above earth. Robotic cars powered by magnetic linear motors ferry both humans and cargo to and from the floating Earth Port, allowing passengers to disembark at the station – which would feature living facilities, laboratory areas and a space solar power system capable of transmitting power to the ground. Aiming to be built by 2050, one major hurdle has been finding a material strong and light enough to build the cable. However, engineers believe fantasy can become reality with the development of carbon nanotechnology. Carbon nanotubes offer a suitable solution but currently it is costly and inefficient to construct, making the elevator's price tag the steepest hurdle to its construction.

Hyperloop, Elon Musk

California has proposed its own transport innovation in the solar-powered “Hyperloop” transport concept, proposed by SpaceX, Tesla and PayPal founder Elon Musk as a new link between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Hyperloop system would propel passengers in pods using magnets and fans through elevated depressurized tubes reducing air resistance – the pods would run on a cushion of air akin to a puck on an air hockey table. The new link promises to be a faster, safer, less costly and more efficient mode of transport between the two cities, with the pods expecting to reach speeds of up to 800mph and travel time estimated to be less than 30 minutes. Whilst some 100 engineers from across the US are working on the development of the system, they are at least 10 years away from a commercially operating Hyperloop. However a functioning test track is due to be completed by 2019. You can read more about the plans here

amphibious vehicle
Dubai's amphibious vehicle is expected to appear in the seas by 2030

Amphi-X Amphibious Vehicle for Dubai 2030

With private car being the preferred mode of transport for most people in the emirate there’s a gap in the market for a vehicle guaranteed to avoid the congested streets. Cue the Amphi-X, an efficient yet effective personal amphibious vehicle designed with accessibility to the future “World Island” in mind. As the World Island comprises of many smaller islands a land/water vehicle would be a major attraction for the wealthy residents to purchase and enjoy the convenience of travelling by both land and sea. Designer Beichen Nan, inspired by an article discussing amphibious vehicles in Top Gear magazine, has created a sleek vehicle of pure luxury. The easy to use vehicle comes with a water mode activated by an internal switch, in which the wheels retract and inflatable seals are activated to make the vehicle watertight. Expect to see the Amphi-X cruising the shores of Dubai by 2030.