There are few things quite as fascinating as learning what people in the past dreamed about the future.
A series of paintings made by Jean-Marc Côté and other French artists in 1899, 1900, 1901, and 1910 shows artist depictions of what life might look like in the year 2000, or the equivalent of what modern-day artists think life might look like 100 years from today. According to the Public Domain Review, the first series of images were printed and enclosed in cigarette and cigar boxes around the time of the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris.
What is particularly striking is that lots of their ideas involve mechanized devices, flying, or a combination of the two. Some of the portraits are quite fantastic and bizarre by modern standards, but others are surprisingly accurate visions of our current era, including helicopters, farming machines, and what looks like a precursor to the new robot vacuum, the iRobot Roomba vacuum.
The 4th Industrial Revolution is well and truly underway, and technology is evolving faster than ever before in the history of mankind.
Whereas we may not have succeeded yet in terraforming and colonizing Mars or developing the whale bus and riding giant seahorses as people envisioned more than a century ago, there’s little doubt the current decade is set to spawn even more impressive feats of techno-wizardry.
Here are 3 futuristic but promising travel dreams that have yet to be realized, including one that might actually become a reality during our lifetimes.
The United States’ neighbor to the north–Canada–is home to some of the world’s longest railroads, covering vast distances across its wide-open provinces.
It’s therefore quite surprising that Canada lacks one travel technology that its economic peers all have in common–high-speed trains.
Canada is the only G7 member with no high-speed trains, though it’s not for lack of trying.
Indeed, Canada has come close to achieving that goal with a creation that would’ve not only put it on the high-speed rail map, but could have disrupted the global rail industry: JetTrain.
In the early-2000s, Canada’s largest transport manufacturer of business jets, Bombardier (TSE: BBD.B), came up with an experimental high-speed passenger train concept that promised to bring European-style rail services to Canada and the United States.
JetTrain was designed to marry technology from America’s all-electric Acela Express and gas turbine helicopter motors and create a fast, modern passenger train for routes across North America.
Bombardier’s proposal involved sandwiching lightweight tilting passenger cars between two power cars fitted with Pratt & Whitney gas turbine motors–delivering an impressive 8,000 hp and performance to match the NEC’s electric trains.
Remarkably, the JetTrain turbine motor used in the prototype weighed a mere 882 pounds (400 kilograms), or less than a tenth of a comparable diesel engine of similar output, which can weigh as much as 10 tonnes (22,046 pounds).
Keeping the weight as low as possible is a critical component of high-speed rail vehicles because lighter locomotives and cars place less stress on the track, which in turn reduces repair and maintenance costs.
JetTrain was designed to run at a maximum speed of 165 mph (265 kph) on existing tracks shared with freight trains, and promised a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The proptype was completed in June 2000, hitting a top-speed of 156 mph during testing at the FRA’s test center in Pueblo, Colorado before going on a tour in the United States and Canada
JetTrain would have been the ideal high-speed train technology for routes where electrification was unlikely. JetTrain would have been the ideal solution to improve passenger services on the proposed Florida Overland Express between Orlando and Tampa in Florida.
Unfortunately, lack of funding stopped the JetTrain on its tracks.
Building sleek and shiny new high-speed trains is one thing; persuading governments to invest billions of dollars in upgrading railroads to make this possible is an altogether different challenge.
For many reasons, the dominance of the private automobile and the oil lobby, among other factors, have prevented governments in Canada and the US from investing in fast, frequent, and reliable intercity rail.
“JetTrain is symptomatic of the chronic problem facing intercity passenger rail in Canada; the desire to get something for nothing. In the 1960s, when the Canadian government invested in the 170 mph-capable United Aircraft TurboTrain, it was placed in service on jointed rails on an alignment laid back in 1856. With tight curves and over 300 level crossings between Toronto and Montreal, the train never reached its potential,” Canadian rail expert and passionate VIA Rail supporter Jason Shron has said.
For years, high-speed bullet trains plying routes between countries in Europe and Asia have been bringing passengers between cities within 2.5 hours.
The much-hyped hyperloop was supposed to cut that time to less than 45 minutes, traveling at a top speed of 760 mph–faster than a Boeing 747 and 3.5x faster than Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains.
But like many promising travel technologies, a practical hyperloop has never really come to fruition.
The hyperloop concept gained popularity in 2013 after Tesla CEO Elon Musk published the Hyperloop Alpha paper outlining the design, cost, and safety of the concept.
Last November, Virgin Hyperloop demonstrated its first passenger test ride.
A hyperloop encompasses magnetic pods levitating inside a tube at more than 1,000 kilometers per hour. It runs on maglev technology–Maglev is basically what allows a hyperloop to go at fantastic speeds, thanks to the lack of friction between the passenger-carrying pods and the tube-shaped track. The general concept is simple: Magnets lining the bottom of the pod repel the tube material, levitating the pod as it runs.
Theoretically, a hyperloop makes it possible for a passenger to travel from LA to San Francisco in just 45 minutes with tickets less than $100 one way, thus making working and living in two different cities a norm, while also creating a world with less congestion and pollution.
The good news: Hyperloop tech stands a fairly good chance of seeing the light of day.
After all, maglev was only recently fine-tuned and could be less than 10 years away from becoming reality following a successful human test ride last November.
#3. Flying cars
Also known as electric air taxis, flying cars have been around us for a long time thanks to sci-fi staples such as “Back to the Future” and “The Jetsons.”
But with major brands like Boeing (NYSE:BA), Airbus (OTCPK:EADSF), Hyundai and Toyota (NYSE:TM) now promising to whisk riders through the skies in flying taxis and receiving a heady dose of Wall Street endorsement, the dream is increasingly getting closer to becoming a reality.
Indeed, many experts are now upbeat that air mobility over short distances is closer to becoming a common sight than ever before in history, thanks mainly to massive advancements in battery technologies and autonomous flight. And make no mistake about it: Flying taxis have real potential to completely restructure public and private transportation, decongest our roads and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, a Morgan Stanley Research study says the autonomous urban aircraft market will continue to mature during the current decade and then boom globally to reach $1.5 trillion by 2040.
Sure, flying taxis have no shortage of critics and detractors, including Elon Musk, who has dismissed these futuristic flying devices as being little more than giant drones that are 1,000 times bigger and noisier and will “blow away anything that isn’t nailed down when they land.” But even Musk himself has admitted to giving serious thought to flying cars after being sold on a futuristic, all-electric, 5-seater jet made by German company Lilium.
Here are some of the notable flying taxi early risers that could soon enter the investment mainstream.
Joby Aviation: Waiting for clearance
Joby Aviation, a California-based startup founded in 2009 and backed by major investors, including Toyota and Intel (NASDAQ:INTL), is regarded as one of the leading companies in the flying taxi space.
Joby caught the attention of many investors after it bought Uber Technologies’ (NYSE:UBER) flying taxi division Elevate in December. The company’s flying taxi, the Joby S4, has the following specs:
- Vehicle type: Vectored thrust with six tilting propellers
- Capacity: Pilot + four passengers
- Range: 150 miles (240km)
- Speed: 200mph (322km/h)
- Projected Launch Date: 2023
And now Joby has just taken one step closer to becoming a mainstream company.
According to a recent report by the Financial Times, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) co-founder Mark Pincus’s SPAC Reinvent Technology Partners (NYSE:RTP) is close to inking a deal to merge with Joby in a deal that will value the flying taxi developer at $5.7billion.
Reinvent Technology is reportedly finalizing financing for the transaction, with an agreement expected to be announced this month. A final deal could still fall apart, though, if additional financing isn’t secured.
Archer Aviation: Cleared for takeoff
A week ago, urban air mobility startup Archer Aviation agreed to go public via a SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) deal with Atlas Crest Investment Corp. (NYSE:ACIC) in a deal that will value Archer at $3.8B.
The transaction includes United Airlines (NASDAQ:UAL), Chrysler/Peugeot parent Stellantis (NYSE:STLA) as well as mega-investors Ken Moelis and Marc Lore.
Archer is developing electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or “eVTOL,” helicopter-like aircraft that can take off and land without runways. United Airlines has announced plans to buy $1B of Archer’s eVTOLs, with an option to purchase another $500M later on in a bid to promote “decarbonization” in its operations.
ACIC shares have more than doubled since the deal was announced.
Other promising flying taxi companies include:
Based in Bruchsal, Germany, co-founded by the former skateboarding star Alex Zosel and backed by the Chinese car company Geely.
Vehicle type: Volocopter Volocity, an 18-rotor multicopter
Capacity: Pilot + one passenger + hand luggage
Range: 22 miles (35km)
Speed: 68mph (110km/h)
Projected Launch Date: 2022-2023
Startup based in Guangzhou, China.
Vehicle type: EHang 216, multicopter with 16 propellers
Capacity: Two passengers, no pilot
Range: 22 miles (35km)
Speed: 81mph (130km/h)
Projected Launch Date: Unknown
Munich-based startup with investors including Chinese internet giant Tencent.
Vehicle type: Lilium Jet, a vectored thrust, with 36 jet engines
Capacity: Pilot + four passengers
Range: 186 miles (300km)
Speed: 186mph (300km/h)
Projected Launch Date: 2025
Wisk is a joint venture between Silicon Valley startup Kitty Hawk and Boeing, backed by Google’s Larry Page.
Vehicle type: Wisk Cora, a hybrid with fixed wings and 12 rotors
Capacity: Two passengers, no pilot
Range: 25 miles (40km)
Speed: 100mph (160km/h)
A Bristol-based startup that acquired MGI, the Formula One consultancy led by motorsports veteran Mike Gascoyne, in 2019.
Vehicle type: Multicopter with 12 propellers
Capacity: Pilot + two passengers
Speed: 50mph (80km/h)
Launch: Aiming for a commercial launch in 2023-24.
By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com
More Top Reads From Oilprice.com: