As the world grows, so does the need for innovative transportation options. Large cities are struggling to cope with traffic jams and pollution, while travelers are seeking faster ways to travel between cities, countries, and continents.

To solve these problems, engineers are developing new ways to travel. Flying cars might not be here yet (sadly, we still aren’t as cool as The Jetsons), but there are other new forms of transportation on the horizon. The media is full of stories about self-driving cars, undersea maglev trains, high-speed tube transportation, and even a “straddling bus.” We’re moving towards a transportation revolution, and it should be an interesting ride.

The Google Self-Driving Car

Most people have heard about the Google Self-Driving Car, which allows passengers to travel by car, without having to drive. However, not everyone knows how this futuristic vehicle works. Google equips each car with sensors and software that tell the car how to drive.

  • Map information and sensors tell the car where it is in the world and on the street.
  • Sensors detect and classify objects based on size, shape, and movement. For example, the sensors can identify a pedestrian.
  • Software predicts what these objects will do next. For example, the software will predict that a pedestrian will cross the street.
  • The software will then select a safe speed and direction for the car. For example, the software will instruct the car to come to a stop for a pedestrian.

Google has been working on this technology since 2009, and its cars have since self-driven over 1.5 million miles. Right now, there could even be a self-driving car in your neighborhood, as there are prototypes currently driving on the streets of Austin, TX, Kirkland, WA, Mountain View, CA, and Phoenix, AZ.

Although self-driving cars do have critics, most people see value in a vehicle that gives independence to the elderly and visually-impaired. Additionally, most people wouldn’t mind catching up on the latest book (or their sleep) during their commute. Most importantly, since 94% of traffic accidents involve human error, a self-driving car could reduce the over 1.2 million traffic deaths that occur every year around the world.

Transatlantic Undersea Maglev Trains

Over 10 years ago, engineers first suggested constructing an undersea maglev (or magnetic levitation) railroad to link New York and London. Each train car could transport about 80 passengers under the Atlantic Ocean at 300 mph to 400 mph, saving on travel time while utilizing the wealth of space under the sea.

  • To create this undersea railroad, neutrally-buoyant tubes would be placed 150 feet below the surface of the Atlantic. These tubes would be held at the required depth by spring loaded wires with anchors on the bottom.
  • The train would be propelled forward by electric currents that interact with the forces of the electromagnetic coils on the sides of the train tracks. This is the same technology used by bullet trains in Japan.

Many were intrigued by the prospect of fast transatlantic travel; however, not everyone was a fan. Critics attacked the project’s $200 billion price tag and they expressed safety concerns about moving people 3500 miles through a tube under the ocean.

Despite what the critics think, this idea has potential. As we run out of space on land and the skies become more crowded, we have to think of new ways to travel. Considering that most of the planet is covered in water, it makes sense to take advantage of this undersea space. The fact that this mode of transportation would be extremely fast is just an added bonus.

High-Speed Tube Transportation in the U.S.

There is another type of high-speed transportation that’s related to maglev trains, a system called Hyperloop. This super-speedy mode of travel could safely take passengers from LA to San Francisco in less than half an hour.

Hyperloop is like the vacuum tube system found in a bank drive-thru, as it operates in a low pressure tube. The system then uses electric propulsion to travel at speeds of 700 mph to 800 mph.

  • Instead of traditional wheels, Hyperloop utilizes air bearings to reduce friction, allowing Hyperloop to glide above the tracks at incredibly fast speeds in a way that’s similar to maglev trains.
  • The use of low pressure tubes sets Hyperloop apart from traditional maglev trains. The tubes will have some of the air sucked out of them by air pumps. This will decrease pressure and increase speed even further.

Developers have proposed running Hyperloop on land between cities in the U.S. They have also suggested using the system to travel for short distances underwater. It all sounds good, but how far away is a functional Hyperloop?

In May, Hyperloop completed its first public test outside of Las Vegas. It was deemed a success, and Hyperloop claims that the system will be operating somewhere in the world by 2020. This sounds promising, especially since Hyperloop has the potential to reduce pollution and eliminate the weather delays and pilot error found with air travel.

The “Straddling Bus”

In China, Transit Elevated Bus (TEB-1) had its first successful test drive this month. There are some who doubt the practicality of TEB-1, but the critics can’t deny that the so-called “straddling bus” boasts a unique design.

  • Despite its name, TEB-1 runs on tracks so it’s actually a train. As it runs down the track, TEB-1 straddles traffic and allows cars to drive beneath it.
  • One carriage can carry up to 400 passengers, and as many as four carriages can be linked together to form a train that could replace 40 traditional buses.

China is home to well over 1 billion people, and it struggles with massive traffic jams and high levels of pollution. It seems that TEB-1 could solve these problems. However, its developers don’t have everything figured out yet.

For example, TEB-1 can only travel in a straight line and it only has a ground clearance of 7 feet, making it impossible for large trucks to pass underneath it. There’s also no word on how passengers will enter and exit TEB-1. With a price tag of $4.5 million per bus, some are wondering whether TEB-1 is even worth it.

Despite these concerns, TEB-1 is like the other emerging transportation methods in this article. It’s a form of transportation that’s still being developed, and it could show great promise in the future. We can’t expect engineers to “get it right” immediately. It takes years of careful testing to ensure safety and efficacy, and that’s a small price to pay for something that could change the way the world travels.