What Is Transportation Technology? What Is The Future Of Transportation?
New technologies are helping to get us from Point A to Point B more efficiently than ever before. Innovative transportation tech, such autonomous vehicles and e-bikes, is helping us get to wherever we want to go; no matter if it’s just down the block, across the country or a few hundred miles into outer space.
What is Transportation Technology?
When you think of life-changing technological innovations in transportation, what comes to mind? Henry Ford’s Model T? Commercial airlines? What about hybrid cars? All those answers would be correct. The point is, these technologies completely upended the transportation sector’s status quo and have had lasting impacts on how we get around.
Innovations in transportation technology are essentially born out of three necessities: efficiency, ease and safety. Scientists and transportation industry professionals work side-by-side to ensure that these new technologies get more people (or things) to their destination faster, safer and with the fewest amount of resources possible. For example, this is why we’ve seen a shift away from coal-powered trains towards ultra-fast bullet trains, luxurious aircrafts to budget-friendly, cost-saving models and a switch from gas guzzling vehicles to 100% electric cars.
As technologies like AI, data science, manufacturing and deep learning become more advanced, so too will vehicles themselves. These fields act as the backbone for everything from autonomous vehicles to aerospace travel, and even function as the basis for transportation platforms like Uber and Lyft. Because of the enormous potential these technologies hold, transportation technology has become one of the fastest-growing and highly-contested fields in the world. Thousands of startups are racing to create the “next big thing” in the world of transportation. We’ve rounded up a few examples of future transportation technologies below.
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Types of Transportation Technology
Innovation in transportation technology is at an all-time high with creative solutions that are helping us get down the block, across the country or globe and even into outer space. Check out some of the most groundbreaking modes of transportation below.
Hyperloops are a proposed method of passenger or freight transportation that use electric propulsion and low-pressure tubes to glide along at speeds that surpass those of commercial aircrafts. The use of magnets to propel the passenger tube significantly reduces the amount of energy and monetary costs it takes to operate the technology. Hyperloops are still in their infancy with top speeds reaching only half of the proposed 750 mph. Still, they’re being put to the test as viable alternatives to traditional travel methods in the near future.
Underground transit, popularized by Elon Musk, is exactly how it sounds; moving people or things through vast systems of tunnels underneath the Earth’s surface. Musk’s Boring Company (derived as Musk sat in LA traffic) is an infrastructure and tunnel construction company that builds underground pathways for cars to travel through at higher speeds and with less traffic congestion. So far, the company has agreed to a project that will connect traffic in downtown Chicago to O’hare airport and to a project that will travel from Baltimore to Washington DC. Underground tunneling, though in its early stages, is seen as an interesting concept that has the potential to reduce traffic congestion and overall environmental effects of current car travel.
The transportation technology garnering the most excitement right now is aerospace. Companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are battling it out to be the first company to offer commercial space flights. That’s right, you no longer have to be a NASA astronaut to live out your childhood dream of flying through outer space.
The rise of commercial space flight has brought about a series of incredible technological advancements, including the use of reusable rocket boosters (demonstrated in the video above). Originally, rocket ships would shed their boosters about 2 minutes after liftoff. These boosters were one-time use and would fall back to the earth in a flaming heap. SpaceX has designed boosters the gently propel themselves back down to Earth with excellent precision. The reusability of these rockets is an achievement in cost-saving travel tech that now opens up spaceflight to civilians (albeit extremely wealthy civilians at the moment). Additionally, Relativity Space, based in LA, is even 3D printing rocket ships.
The new-age “Space Race” is pushing transportation technology to its limits and producing some of the most awe-inspiring tech we’re seeing today. It’s reducing original spaceflight costs from $500 billion to about $60 million per flight and having us picture future life on the moon, Mars and beyond.
The battle over autonomous vehicles is also heating up with virtually every big-named auto manufacturer and startup vying to create the first mass produced wave of self-driving vehicles. Imagine getting into your car, punching in an address, sitting back and letting a car take you to your endpoint without you having to touch the steering wheel or get stressed out navigating traffic. That used to be an unreachable dream for decades. Now, it’s becoming a reality.
Companies like Google, Waymo, Uber, Tesla and Ford are all developing machine learning, AI and deep learning platforms that help cars calculate their surroundings in real-time and act accordingly. These vehicles are taking in millions of data points each second through a variety of sensors, software and GPS. Sensors constantly monitor surroundings (like people crossing roads, surrounding vehicles and animals darting out into traffic) and make split-second calculations on how to respond safely and efficiently. Additionally, GPS monitors routes to find the quickest way to a destination, upcoming accidents or bottlenecks that can be subverted.
The biggest hurdle in autonomous vehicles right now is safety. There are an infinite number of scenarios that occur on the road. How can a car respond to each one like a rational human would? Each automaker and startup are training these cars to drive safely and with the same rationale as a human being. Although in their early stages, autonomous vehicles have made strides in transportation technology that will have a massive impact on the overall future of how we get around.
- UPS Ventures Invests in Self-Driving Trucking Company TuSimple
- Didi Chuxing Spins Off Autonomous Driving Unit into Independent Company
- Ford and Volkswagen Partner to Make Way for the Future of Autonomous Vehicles
Transportation tech isn’t all just about transporting people. It can also include the technology that helps get our packages and products from point A to point B. One of the biggest advancements in transportation technology for the shipping industry is last-mile robotics.
Instead of relying on a delivery driver or postal worker to drop off the item at your front door, companies are now employing robots that traverse cities and glide down sidewalks to deliver your package straight to your door. Amazon and FedEx are currently employing robots in certain cities to deliver packages within a few mile radius of their fulfillment centers, and Domino’s Pizza is using robots to deliver their pizza orders on time.
Electric vehicles are having a massive effect on how we get around, whether it’s across the city or across the country. Tesla and Nissan have popularized the electric car, which runs strictly on battery power to get us to where we need to go. Instead of refueling at a gas station, electric vehicles need a battery charge to get them back on the road. Today’s most advanced electric vehicles can run from 150 miles to 350 miles on a single charge. These vehicles are fantastic examples of transportation tech because they’re fundamentally changing how vehicles operate and how they’re powered.
Electric bikes and scooters (known as e-bikes and e-scooters) have become viable travel options for traversing neighborhoods or entire cities. These vehicles provide an ease of use and convenience that hasn’t been provided by other last-mile forms of transport. Subverting traffic to get to work or making that dinner reservation across town is now easier thanks to the options and eco-friendly benefits provided by electric scooters and bikes.
From the days of horse and carriage to the bullet trains and airplanes of today, people have always come up with creative ways to get from point A to point B.
It may not feel much like it these days, but even in the era of the next-day delivery, there’s still a long and sometimes arduous process behind every online order.