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What Is The Future of Transportation?

From his first hesitant steps to the high-speed trains and supersonic airliners of today, man has made a giant leap in transportation, but where do we go from here?

Centuries Old Transport Method

Man walked on his own two feet for thousands of years until he learnt to master and ride the beasts of the fields, then came the invention of the wheel. After that, there was little progress until 1769 when Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot created a steam-powered tricycle that was able to carry a person. It was of little use due to problems with maintaining steam pressure and water supply, but did indicate the way of the future. Thirty-eight years later in 1807, Nicephor Niepce created the first internal combustion engine, which strangely enough, he fitted to a boat.

The World's First Motorised Transport – 1885

In the same year, a Swiss inventor called Francois Isaac de Rivaz built his own engine for a road vehicle. There were other inventors of the same period working on similar systems, but none were put to practical use. It was not until Karl Benz, widely recognised as the father of modern road transport, came along with his four-stroke gasoline engine in 1885, that the first practical automobile reached the road. Since then, this basic concept has undergone ceaseless revision, until today, we have vehicles for a multitude of purposes that can travel at great speeds on land.

Stephenson's' Rocket 1825

Our rail travel can be traced back to the work of George Stephenson, born in Wylam, Northumberland, England who, inspired by various pioneers in the field, built the first workable steam engine in 1825. This workhorse served mankind successfully for more than one hundred years, but in the 1960′s most countries converted fully to electric trains because they proved to be more more efficient. 

Modern HST Train

The use of electricity to power rail locomotives was found to be less polluting, but also allowed greater speeds to be achieved. This led to the current generation of HST (High Speed Trains), such as the German ICE and the French TGV, which travel at speeds up to 250kph in many countries.

The First Free Balloon Flight – Paris – 1783

Air travel began on the 21st of November 1783, when two Frenchman, Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent d’Arlandes, made the first untethered manned balloon flight in Paris. Air travel remained stagnated until the beginning of the industrial age, when on December 17th 1903, the Wright Brothers made the first powered flight in the now legendary Wright Flyer, which heralded in the age of powered flight for all.

Frank Whittle Runs His Jet Engine – 1937

Since these lowly beginnings, man has leapt ahead on the ground and in the air, and we have now reached the current supersonic age. This was due mainly to the invention of the modern jet engine by Frank Whittle, an Englishman, who first had the idea of a practical turbo-jet engine in 1928. His first working model was unveiled in 1937. Man now had the means with which to go faster and faster, and therefore, jet engines have powered both aircraft and cars in a bid to set new records.

Grace and Beauty – Concorde

Innovation brought us supersonic aircraft, fast cars and super-fast trains. We can now travel at speeds the early inventors not only thought impossible, but if achieved, would kill us. Such is the progress man has made in transportation in just a century. We have almost reached the pinnacle of development in these three basic areas, but is it all to end here? Not likely! 

Scientists are continuously looking for new ways to propel us around the planet, and even as you read this, work is going on behind the scenes to allow us to go even faster.

Airbus Concept Scramjet Airliner

Now there is speculation that the next generation of airliners will have a new propulsion system – The Scramjet. The USA is currently carrying out tests with this technology, which if successful, could be used for our future airliners and allow them to fly at speeds of 4500mph (Mach 6). This would mean a London to Sydney trip lasting only 2 hours! There are however drawbacks, in that due to the enormous pressures during acceleration, passengers would be required to wear some form of G-Suit.

U.S. Scram Jet Test:

Japanese Maglev Slows Using Air Brakes

We have already proven that trains no longer need steel wheels and tracks on which to run with the invention of the Maglev Train (Magnetic Levitation). The first true Maglev train ran in the 1980′s in Birmingham in the UK. In 2003 a Japanese Maglev Train reached a mind-boggling speed of 581kph (World Record), however, if this technology will ever become commonplace world-wide is open to debate due to problems associated with it, like constantly maintaining the critical distance between the vehicle (magnets) and guideway, plus having sufficient magnetic shielding to protect passengers with heart pacemakers, computer hardrives and even credit cards. Some countries, mainly Japan and China, do have regular Maglev routes.

Aerotrain Concept

Where the Maglev train uses magnetic fields to generate a friction-free ride, thinking seems to be turning more to aerodynamics for the future. The Aerotrain as it is called, relies on generating a cushion of air under itself not by magnets, but by utilizing the same principles that keep an aircraft in the air. It is currently under development in Japan and would reach speeds of 350kph.

Maglev Speed Record:

The Future of Road Transport?

Future road travel is already ‘in the works’ so to speak, with the idea being to hand over much of the vehicles controls to a computer. This could mean we all travel in ‘Road Trains’ on motorways with speed, distance, braking etc all being fully automatic. It is hoped this concept will prove to be a solution to the daily deadlock in some cities. Eventually it is envisaged that you would step into your transport ‘pod’, dial your destination, and the whole trip will be fully automated while you sit back and read the newspaper.

Heathrow Pod System:

Heathrow Pod System in Action

A forerunner of this system was inaugurated recently at Heathrow Airport in London. It is called Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) and carries passengers to and from the car park area to whatever terminal they need at the press of a button. The system is fully automated and run by computers and a system of lasers. It is highly likely that this could be the beginning of a whole new concept for the future of road and ‘rail’ transport. I guess we will have to wait and see!


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