Over the next decade, commuter trends and innovations will center efficiency. This means renewable-energy alternatives that are both accessible and affordable, specifically designed to combat travel-related pollution and bottlenecks. This will involve embracing the shared, multi-modal options highlighted in the emerging mobility-as-a-service ecosystem — and maybe even self-driving cars and flying taxis.
Notable Future Transportation Technologies
- Autonomous Aerial Vehicles (AAVs)
- Delivery Drones
- Driverless Cars
- Flying Hotel Pods
- Flying Taxis
- Maglev Trains
- Self-driving Taxis
- Smart Roads
- Underground Tunnels
The following list is a preview of the tech innovations driving tomorrow, some of which are strictly theoretical. Others are in the testing phases or parked just on the other side of a few regulatory barriers. In the meantime, lime-green e-scooters, ride-hailing app services and Teslas will have to do.
12 Future Transportation Technologies
Autonomous Aerial Vehicles (AAVs)
Autonomous aerial vehicles, or AAVs, are aircrafts that operate without human interference. They’re similar to drones in that they are also unmanned, airborne vehicles, but they are specifically designed to transport humans. In place of a pilot, the AAV system employs GPS, inertial navigation and a variety of sensors to drive the aircraft, collecting data mid-flight. Most models are configured as vertical take off and landing vehicles, or VTOLs. This means they can forgo a runway for lift off since they are built with horizontal rotors, like a helicopter, able to operate in confined spaces at quicker travel times.
EHang 216 AAV
This electric, driverless aircraft features eight propellers, powered by 16 motors, and can be fully charged in two hours. During flight, it communicates its status and location to the platform’s smart command-and-control center via 4G and 5G networks. The vehicle can carry its maximum 485-pound payload for 18 miles, and has a top speed of 80 miles per hour.
Delivery drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) designed to distribute lightweight packages as part of the last-mile delivery process. Either controlled remotely or autonomously with the help of artificial intelligence, these rechargeable flying robots navigate routes and drop-off points using GPS, sensors and computer vision systems.
The first commercial drone delivery to a residence in the United States took place in 2016 and included a chicken sandwich, donuts, coffee, candy and frozen Slurpees, as reported by The Verge. Today, drone delivery services are readily available abroad and continue to deploy in select U.S. cities as the Federal Aviation Administration finalizes rules on flying drones out of the operator’s eyeline. Wide-scale deployment can be expected as early as next year.
Amazon Prime Air
In the works since 2013, Amazon Prime Air aims to deliver goods up to five pounds within the hour. To date it’s completed just 100 deliveries in two U.S. markets — a slow start to its end-of-year goal of 10,000 deliveries in 2023.
Zipline’s P1 “Zips”
Zipline is the largest drone delivery system in the world, and is mostly active outside of the United States. The autonomous logistics company made its name in 2016 while partnered with vaccine non-profit Gavi, delivering 4,000 units of blood and urgent medical supplies to remote locations across Rwanda. Now, Zipline delivers assorted goods from Walmart, with 36 stores across seven states. It will soon be servicing Seattleites with their GNC supplements and favorite pies from Pagliacci Pizza, too.
Driverless cars, also referred to as self-driving cars, are vehicles that operate autonomously, without direct human input. All throughout the vehicle are sensors that enable the car or truck to “see” their surroundings. These mapping tools include cameras, radar, LiDAR, ultrasound or sonar, GPS, odometry and inertial measurement units. Together, they compute a three-dimensional model of the vehicle’s surroundings, which informs the vehicle of traffic controls, merging opportunities and obstacles en route.
Driving automation, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers, is split into six categories — zero being fully manual and five being entirely autonomous. This standard is recognized by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Tesla’s Autopilot Feature
Elon Musk’s electric car manufacturer offers a semi-autonomous suite of features as a standard across its automotive line. All of its cars come with autopilot, which enables hands-free steering, adaptive cruise, lane-changing assist, park assist and emergency braking. Its enhanced autopilot system, so-called “full self-driving,” isn’t actually the real thing yet, but does add on traffic signal and stop sign control, auto lane change and smart summon, which allows a user to call their parked vehicle from a remote location. As tech advances, all Tesla cars are built for seamless software upgrades, according to the company.
Existing only in theory, flying hotels are aircrafts designed to remain in-flight while housing passengers for an extended stay. Guests check in to their own designated pods, with access to common areas throughout the facility. Flying hotels can be thought of as a sort of cruise ship in the clouds or low-orbit, traveler-friendly space station.
Sky Cruise Hotel
Sky Cruise Hotel is a conceptual 5,000-passenger, AI-piloted luxury hotel designed to remain airborne, docking only to pick up or drop off guests. The hospitality model, which would be powered by 20 nuclear fusion engines, is a theoretical facility imagined by engineer Hashem Al-Ghaili and inspired by a model created by 3D artist Alexander Tujicov.
Each room of Canadian-based design firm HOK’s conceptual flying “drone hotel” would be made up of 200-square-foot, glass pods that could detach from the main hub and explore a given area. The project qualified as a top three finalist for the Radical Innovation Awards, a contest for tech innovations in the hospitality and travel industries.
Flying taxis are small commercial aircrafts that could transport passengers regionally on-demand. Also known as air taxis, these aircrafts would exclusively commute short distances as a means to bypass ground traffic congestion. Given their size and use case, flying taxis are a great candidate for all-electric, zero-emissions air travel, with the first generation of battery-powered planes likely to serve as airport transit services, cargo vehicles and training planes for new pilots.
Joby Aviation’s Air Taxi
This electrified flying commuter features six propellers, a range of 150 miles and a top speed of 200 miles per hour. The California-based aviation company acquired Uber’s flying taxi division in 2020, and plans to launch its commercial flying taxi operations by 2024 thanks to backing by Toyota, JetBlue and Intel.
Hoverbikes, or hovercycles, are bikes that fly. They carry more of a motorcycle aesthetic, but feature a set of propellers where wheels would normally be. Primary propellers provide lift while smaller propellers act as stabilizers. Technically, hoverbikes qualify as VTOLs, or vertical take-off and landing aircrafts.
Aerwins’ XTURISMO Hoverbike
This hoverbike features a hybrid propulsion system that includes four electric motors and an internal combustion engine, all of which power its six propellers. Aerwins’ claims that its XTURISMO Hoverbike can manage a maximum speed of about 60 miles per hour and air time of 30 to 40 minutes.
The Scorpion-3 is what you get by stacking a motorbike on top of a carbon-fiber-frame quadcopter. This vehicle, made by Russian-based company Hoversurf, has a top speed of 43 miles per hour and a flight time that ranges from 15 to 40 minutes, depending on payload. For $150,000, it’s all yours.
The hyperloop is a high-speed, ground-level transportation system that uses magnetic levitation and electromagnetic propulsion to transport passengers (or goods) through a vacuum tunnel at jet-like speeds. The futuristic train can be broken down into three main components: a sealed, low-pressure tube; pressurized coach pods and terminals. Proposed by Space-X and Tesla founder Elon Musk in his white paper, the hyperloop would travel up to 760 miles per hour and be used to connect major cities.
Virgin’s Hyperloop One
On November 8, 2020, the venture capital conglomerate’s Hyperloop One successfully sent two passengers on the first manned trip via pneumatic maglev train in history. It reached speeds of up to 107 miles per hour and took place on the company’s 1,640-foot DevLoop test track in Las Vegas, Nevada.
A portmanteau of “magnetic” and “levitation,” Maglev trains rely on magnetism to provide a high-speed, frictionless railway service. They use two sets of superconducting, electromagnetic systems that work in tandem — one to repel the train up and off the ground, essentially creating a cushion of air over which it glides, and another to accelerate forward. Their lack of wheels and capacity for high speeds (upwards of 300 miles per hour) differentiate them from bullet trains, which average at about 200 miles per hour. While there are only six in operation today, these quiet, inexpensive, all-electric trains have been deemed the most efficient form of ground transportation, and may eventually compete with air transportation.
This maglev line was introduced to the public in 2004 and remains the fastest magnetic railway service to date. It has a top speed of 270 miles per hour, connecting the outskirts of the world’s eighth-largest city by size to its international airport.
The sole maglev train in Japan was built in 2005, debuting as the first unmanned commercial urban maglev train in operation. Traveling at up to 62 miles per hour, the electrified public transit system serves nine stations across a 5.5-mile track.
Micromobility refers to small-scale modes of transportation — typically lightweight, low-speed vehicles that travel under 30 miles per hour and are operated by one person. Either partially or fully motorized, they are intended for short trips. In the context of future transportation, these are accessible, rechargeable solutions that may be available as citywide ridesharing programs — some of which exist today, like e-bikes and e-scooters.
Nimbus One Microcar
The Nimbus One is a three-wheeled, “autocycle” with a fully enclosed design that’s one-quarter the size of a compact car. According to the company, the idea was to package the nimble convenience of a motorbike with the safety and comfort of a car. You can expect to see these microcars later this year as they roll out in 2024.
In Europe, licensed drivers can rent an electric moped from their smartphones. Revel, an electric mobility company, offers a 100-percent electric fleet of baby-blue, dockless vehicles that travel up to 30 miles per hour — helmets included.
Robotaxis are autonomous, self-driving cars operated by a ridesharing service. Without the need for human input, these driverless ride-hailing services can run 24/7, on-demand. When picking up a rider, the car unlocks after they hit “start ride,” which is communicated through Bluetooth controls via the rider’s smartphone. Robo taxi fleets will steadily deploy over the next decade, and are already in service in Phoenix, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Motional’s Hyundai Ioniq 5
Partnering with both Lyft and Uber, autonomous vehicle startup Motional has already launched its all-electric robo taxi service in Las Vegas — coming soon to Los Angeles. Its vehicles are fitted with more than 30 sensors, which provide a 360-degree perception as well as long-range detection, and undergo “millions of miles” in testing before launch.
Brought to you by Alphabet, these self-driving units support autonomous ride-hailing services in Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Francisco. Aside from the information it gathers in real time, the Waymo One is able to anticipate driver behaviors from programming it learned prior to launch, totaling 20 million real-world miles and 20 billion miles in simulation.
Smart roads is an all-inclusive term for digitally enhanced road systems. They’re a component of smart cities, a tech-first approach to city planning, construction, management and public services. Typically, smart roads embed sensors in their infrastructure, which may serve a variety of purposes. They may feature solar panels that power streetlights or electric vehicles en route or high-speed, weigh-in-motion scales that automatically measure cargo trucks. As smart roads collect data on traffic flow and public transit systems, these heavily integrated communication networks are able to assist in reducing congestion.
Electreon’s Wireless Charging Infrastructure
By installing copper coils beneath the surface of a roadway, electric vehicles can wirelessly recharge their batteries while driving through a process called magnetic resonance induction. During this process, energy is transferred from the coils to a receiver mounted on the bottom of an electric vehicle. Electreon’s smart road tech can be integrated into public roads of any kind, including bus routes and parking lots.
Glowing ‘Smart Highways’ by Studio Roosegaarde
The Iceland-based design lab has come up with the idea to repaint road surface markings with solar paint. After charging during the day, lane lines and other pavement markers would glow for up to eight hours after sunset due to the paint’s photovoltaic properties, increasing safety and visibility at night.
Smart Pavement Sensors
Roadways developed by digital infrastructure startup Integrated Roadways come with smart-tech networks that can communicate information — like weather, traffic flow and hazards — to electric vehicles, central hubs and first responders. The system relies on sensors, antennas, fiber-optic cables and edge data services to detect vehicle positions and roadway conditions in real time. The Kansas-based company envisions its product as a “Wi-Fi platform for cars and other future mobility services.”
Underground tunnels are an old concept being upcycled. This weather-proof solution, originally designed to ease traffic congestion and create functional urban areas, has re-entered the conversation on future transportation tech as the tunnels provide an efficient, cost-effective alternative to traditional modes with a greener output.
On course to connect major hotels, attractions and airports, the project has been approved to expand to 65 miles in length, which will include 69 stations and enough 12-passenger vehicles to transport 57,000 commuters per hour.
The Boring Company’s Las Vegas Loop
The Las Vegas Convention Center Loop is currently a 1.7-mile stretch with four stops. What would be a 25-minute walk for convention center attendees to travel across campus is reduced to two minutes via the underground carrier, according to the company’s website. The LVCC can transport 4,400 passengers per hour in its three-passenger vehicles. Such a roadway has already been implemented in Las Vegas, known as the Las Vegas Convention Center Loop (or LVCC). The company behind LVCC is The Boring Company, owned by Elon Musk.
Importance of Future Transportation Technology
The need to cut down carbon emissions has become more urgent than ever. Transportation tech has responded with eco-friendlier forms of transport, like electric vehicles and maglev trains, which reduce consumers’ dependency on oil in favor of renewable energy.
Publicly available transport — like e-bikes, e-scooters and robotaxis — get more cars off the road, further lowering CO2 emissions. These vehicles also make it easier for people to navigate urban environments while lowering the risk of automotive accidents. As a result, cities are able to prioritize well-being and efficiency, and future transportation technology promises even faster, safer and more sustainable forms of travel.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the future of transportation?
The future of transportation may involve self-driving cars, drones, maglev trains and more, all in an effort to reduce carbon emissions, increase autonomous travel and promote safety and efficiency, especially in urban spaces.
What are some futuristic forms of transportation?
Flying taxis, driverless cars and hoverbikes are a few futuristic forms of transportation that are still in development, but could become widespread in the years ahead.
What will transportation be like in 2050?
Hyperloops, self-driving taxis and smart roads could become common components of everyday commutes in 2050.