Retrofuturists of the 20th century imagined that humans would be cruising around in flying cars, taking trips to outer space, and living in high-tech homes in the sky. We still don’t have any of those things just yet, but maybe they weren’t so far off the mark, after all. Recent innovations in personal transportation go way beyond driverless cars, hinting at a not-so-distant future in which our driver-led, fossil-fuel-powered land vehicles will seem like dinosaurs.
Traveling along waterways makes a lot of sense in many cities and could help relieve congestion on the roads. But how do you avoid polluting the water in the process? The Sea Bubble by Alain Thébault presents one possible solution. This hovering water taxi concept is a zero-emission vehicle that would shuttle passengers down the Seine River, made of lightweight components like fiberglass and high-density foam.
Powered by solar energy, each pod seats five people and can reach speeds of up to 18.5 miles per hour. They float two feet above the water while in motion thanks to four foils attached to the hull, making them quick, quiet, and low-impact for living creatures that call the Seine home.
Decades ago, futurists hoped that by the 21st century, we’d at least be taking pleasure trips to the moon, if not colonizing it. But so far, the only people who’ve been able to gaze at the Earth from space are astronauts. That could change relatively soon with innovations like the Paradoxal Jet, a high-speed passenger jet that’s not only capable of flying from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia in less than three hours, but does so up to 40 miles above the Earth’s surface.
The concept by Charles Bombardier is propelled by two rotary ramjet engines, which can generate supersonic speeds without moving parts. While the current cruising altitude for international flights is around 39,000 feet, the Paradoxal could zoom up to 60,000 feet into the air, traveling on the edge of outer space before re-entering the Earth’s orbit just prior to landing.
Driverless cars have gotten a lot of attention as the future of personal vehicles, but we shouldn’t count drones out as a leader in autonomous navigation. Automation on land definitely seems more feasible—after all, we still haven’t reached an era of flying cars. But when you take human pilots out of the equation, managing low-altitude airspace gets a lot easier.
For anyone who’s ever wished they could just lift their car right out of a frustrating traffic jam and into the sky, the Ehang 184 autonomous-flight drone is pretty appealing. It uses eight electric motors to power eight propellers on the end of four arms and would access a 4G network to follow GPS routes and detect hazards along the way. The design needs a lot more testing and refinement to make the dream of autonomous drone transportation a reality, but it’s come a long way in just a year of development, so it’s got a lot of potential.
Yet another innovation unveiled at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Hyundai’s Mobility Vision brings driverless vehicles right into the home. Transporting cargo or sleeping children doesn’t get much easier than this. The autonomous vehicle plugs into a port inside a smart home, becoming an extension of the living space and charging itself while not in use.
A single door opens upward to blur the lines between home and car, and the driver’s seat can slide out into the living room for use as a chair. The key to this design is the fact that the car is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, so it’s virtually silent and won’t emit any nasty chemicals or vapors.