What’s Next For Transportation Tech?
5 Mobility Advancements Of The Future
As the ways we get around continue to morph, blend and advance through technology, it’s easy to feel like the far-off World of Tomorrow isn’t, well, that far off.
The reality is, of course, that a vast leap in how humans get from Point A to Point B may still be a long way into the future. But there are still plenty of amazing—though likely more incremental—developments on the verge of real breakthrough.
Below are some of the ones mobility experts are most excited about.
Driverless Cars Powered by Blockchain
We’ve written in this very space about why you shouldn’t hold your breath for widespread use of driverless cars. However, we also used to hear how artificial intelligence was a pipe dream, and yet here we are already waist-deep in it.
In fact, it’s one of the most promising AI-powered inventions—blockchain—that may well enable the autonomous vehicles of the future.
“Loads and loads of data derived from AI and machine learning will need to be collected, analyzed, and put into action by your driverless car in a fraction of a second,” explains Jake McKenzie, content manager for Auto Accessories Garage. “Just a few years ago, a database network capable of verifying, storing, and securing all of this data would have seemed impossible, but blockchain appears to be absolutely capable of the task.”
As McKenzie points out, cybersecurity is one of the stumbling blocks on the road to driverless cars since the prospect of a rogue hacker gaining control of even one driverless vehicle is frightening enough to paralyze the entire prospect.
This, however, is where blockchain comes in—due in no small part to its anti-hacking capabilities.
“This system is not only encrypted, but also decentralized,” McKenzie says. “To gain control of a vehicle running on this type of system you would need to gain control of not just one centralized server, but of every vehicle in the network at the same time.”
While McKenzie says a blockchain breach is theoretically possible, the type of computing power it would require is currently inconceivable, which is why the decentralized and encrypted system of blockchain has yet to be breached.
Blockchain’s current stumbling block? Simply having enough tech-savvy people to work with the tech beyond what it’s currently capable of doing for cryptocurrency. Still, McKenzie says he’s confident the auto industry will become the sectors paving the way for a blockchain-powered commute.
Autonomous Buses Will Lead The Way
Speaking of autonomous vehicles, some cities are already employing them in the world of public transportation.
The small town of Neuhausen Rheinfall, Switzerland, was the first to start using an autonomous shuttle as part of its public transportation system in spring of 2018, while Las Vegas has been testing a driverless bus as part of its public transit offerings. Austin is also experimenting with autonomous buses, and it’s expected more cities will start their own autonomous bus programs in 2019.
“While there is no ‘driver,’ they do have an attendant on board for emergencies and to welcome the guests,” says Paul Comfort, the former CEO of the Maryland Transit Administration in Baltimore and host of the podcast Transit Unplugged.
In addition to shuttling tourists around high-density areas, Comfort says many transit leaders also see driverless buses offering a solution to the lingering “first and last mile” problem currently being addressed by e-scooters, bike services and car- and ride-sharing apps.
Comfort says autonomous buses have the promise of being safer than regular vehicles due to their slower speeds, but that nobody should hold their breath for them to advance beyond the low-capacity autonomous buses currently in use.
“It will take several more years and advancements in technology before their usage may spill into regular transit service,” Comfort says.
Ride-Sharing To Continue To Evolve
The adoption curve of ride-sharing has shifted from peer-driven shared commutes to individual hired rides to shared individual rides—even shared specialized passenger segments for minors and senior citizens.
So what’s next?
“I see even more intelligent ways of sharing rides on the horizon, and increased tie-ins with public transit—which will go even more digital and become perhaps completely autonomous,” says Sara Schaer, co-founder and CEO of Kango.
She also predicts that cities will be gradually redesigned due to a reduced need for parking and that people will live farther away due to the ability to work in their autonomous vehicles during their commute. Also, she predicts fewer and fewer people will choose to own their cars.
“The switch from car ownership to using transportation as a service is a fundamental and inevitable behavior change,” she says.
Air Taxis Will Change Our Travel Habits
Think flying cars are a pipe dream? Actually, they’re already here. Sort of.
William Herp founded Linear Air in 2004, aiming to fly a new class of small, four-passenger jets to make private air travel more affordable to a larger number of travelers. In 2013, the company pivoted to three- to eight-passenger air taxi aircraft and now has 2,500 of them operating in the U.S., Canada and Caribbean.
“Our average per-seat price is hundreds of dollars, allowing us to promote air taxi as an alternative to airlines,” says Herp.
Herp says he focuses on flying shorter trips to locations not well-served by the airlines, noting that air taxis will become even more common as commercial airlines cut routes that don’t make economic sense.
However, Herp says what’s really going to change the travel landscape in the sky are hybrid electric-powered aircraft and advancements in new electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. He says that’s what will make air taxi travel possible between points in a single city—though the certification process alone means its prospects are not imminent.
“There is the FAA certification process that takes years for existing tech in traditional designs, which don’t include any civilian VTOL aircraft other than helicopters currently,” Herp adds.
Still, he says, many companies believe eVTOL aircraft represent a significant future-focused opportunity, and are investing in the sector heavily.
Better Electric Batteries
If you have an electric car, it’s likely the bane of your daily commute: battery life.
So you’ll be happy to know that there are significant advancements coming to extend the power of your battery—and even how it charges.
One that’s already on the market is independent, open-network charging systems—often located in parking lots—and apps that allow drivers to find the nearest one.
Jordan McDowell of EV Connect says charging technology is consistently advancing, resulting in faster charging times and a brighter future for electric vehicles. He envisions a future where electric car drivers will no longer have regular panic attacks about running out of juice before making it to a charging station—even if that’s not quite here yet.
“It's not quite to the point yet where an EV driver can go anywhere without thinking about it,” McDowell says.