Future of transport: journey of a lifetime

What is the future of travel? From driverless cars to ‘lilypad cities’, Vision considers how we will get from A to B and beyond in the decades to come

Within the next 20 years, transport systems will need to accommodate rapid population growth throughout the world. The population in Asia and Africa alone is set to triple, which will put pressure on the world’s oil reserves, 85 million barrels of which we consume every day. But thanks to advances in technology, the world of transport looks set to adapt to the changing demands, and in many cases, in the not so distant future.

One interesting approach to future public travel is the ‘superbus’, a high-speed luxury bus that is a cross between a stretch limo and a minibus. Powered by electricity, it can travel at 155mph. The first prototype of the ‘superbus’, developed in the Netherlands, has already been showcased to a number of world cities such as Hannover and Dubai, which are keen to introduce a clean-energy mode of public transport. And that’s not the only benefit; developers believe it could also help answer the problems of road congestion as soon as 2020.

Lilypad offers a solution to the problem of rising waters, one of our century’s greatest challenges

Another revolutionary development in public transport is also being developed in Dubai. British scientist Martin Lowson first made his mark working for Nasa on the Apollo space missions. For the past 15 years he has been working on the driverless car or ‘ULTra pod’ (Urban Light Transport). Lowson believes that his futuristic driverless shuttles will prove “better than the car for city travel”.

Saving resources

The ULTra pod can hold as many as six passengers and travel distances of five kilometres, moving along conveyor-like tracks built 20 feet above ground. Powered by batteries, it can run for three hours before being recharged at special points. Building a complete ULTra pod system for the whole city uses around a sixth of the resources needed for building new roads. It’s also more durable than the roads, costs 40 per cent less to run than a bus and is 60 per cent faster.

But what about long-haul travel? With an ever-expanding population, world-renowned futurologist James Bellini, whose clients include Microsoft, the BBC and Barclays, thinks aeroplanes could be developed to hold as many as 2,000 passengers at once compared with a Boeing 747, which holds about 500.

“Future aircraft will reflect the search for greener, lighter and more fuel-efficient means of transport, with lower costs per passenger, coupled with greatly increased passenger capacity,” he says. “It would not surprise me if commercial aircraft by the 2030s have a capacity of 2,000-plus passengers. A concept such as Boeing’s SUGAR Volt aircraft, which would run on a hybrid power arrangement (part gas engine, part electrical), could viably be commonplace in the 2030s.”

Likewise, Airbus has invested significantly in researching what air travel might look like by 2050. The passenger experience may also see a radical overhaul; future aircraft cabins may even have a bionic structure and responsive membrane offering passengers panoramic views.

Technology will also affect the way we ship goods in the future. The basic unit of the global economy is the container, and every year a vast fleet of freighters hauls more than 17m of them to destinations around the world. In 2032, the ships will get bigger, the routes will get better and the ports smarter. Initiatives such as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor that connects key trading hubs through top-class infrastructure, and Dubai’s Logistics Corridor, which links sea, land and air hubs, and allows cargo to move between airport and seaport in less than an hour, are already revolutionising the way in which goods are moved about.

The port of the future, however, will look very different, according to Cargotec, which has established a project called Port 2060 dedicated to brainstorming the industry’s future. By 2060, the company says, mega-ports will be located offshore on artificial islands, and will be supported by floating feeder/river terminals that can be moved in line with changing demands.

Powered by biofuels

With the world’s oil supplies dwindling, companies will increasingly turn to biofuels for power. “Biofuels will account for a substantial portion of total fuel production and use over the next 20 years,” says clean-tech specialist Steve Weiss. According to Weiss, within the next 20 years we could power our cars, trains and planes with fuel that’s more forgiving on the environment and also our pockets.

The International Energy Agency insists the global boom in renewable energy will continue and that one-third of the world will run on clean power by 2035. A recent report states: “Renewables become the world’s second-largest source of power generation by 2015 (roughly half that of coal) and by 2035 they approach coal as the primary source of global electricity.”

Looking even further ahead, rather than climb into a vehicle that takes us to a different city, our city could travel with us. That’s the concept behind ‘lilypad cities’ designed by French architect Vincent Callebaut as a solution to rising sea levels. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global sea levels are expected to rise between 9cm and 88cm by 2100, with a ‘best estimate’ of 50cm, and the melting of the ice caps could leave low-lying islands submerged.

The ‘lilypad city’ is designed to float around the world as an independent and fully self-sustainable home. With a lake at its centre to collect rainwater, it would be accessed by three separate marinas and feature artificial mountains to offer as many as 50,000 inhabitants a change of scenery from the seascape. It will generate its own power from the sun, water and wind, emitting zero emissions. Callebaut says: “Some countries spend billions making their beaches and dams bigger and stronger. Lilypad is a long-term solution to the problem of the water rising. Accommodating the millions left homeless by environmental changes will prove to be one of the great challenges of the 21st century.”