What’s next for the travel and transport industry?
We spend so much of our lives (and money) getting from A to B. According to the 2015 UK National Travel Survey, Londoners alone spend 107 hours a year commuting to and from work. This partly explains why there’s been so much interest in revolutionising travel, from simple innovations to autonomous vehicles and flying cars. New options are becoming more efficient and more cost effective too. Electric vehicles (EVs) are replacing traditional diesel and petrol consumption, carpooling is challenging car ownership, and driverless cars are freeing up passengers time. What’s next for the dynamic transportation industry, and who are the driving forces behind these advancements?
1. Wright Electric
Wright Electric was founded in 2016, in Massachusetts. Their interest lies in Electric Vehicles, but not in standard consumer vehicles. The startup is building commercial electric airplanes, and testing began early this year. Their flagship model, Wright One, could be hugely beneficial to the transportation industry. For example, removing the need for traditional fuel would make travel cheaper. As great as that sounds, Wright Electric is reliant on advancements in battery technology. They also have competition from the likes of Airbus, a world leader in transportation. Even so, the young company is already in talks with British airline Easyjet and is definitely one to watch.
2. Rolls Royce
Luxury car manufacturer Rolls Royce is spearheading an innovative project in Finland geared towards creating autonomous cargo ships. The Advanced Autonomous Water Applications (AAWA) initiative already has €6.6 million in funding, a long list of partners including ESL Shipping, and academic expertise from three universities. The project will run until the end of 2017 to prepare for autonomous shipping. Rolls Royce expects fully autonomous cargo liners to be regular ocean farers within 10 to 15 years, and has suggested that crewless ships could embark on their maiden voyages as soon as 2020. The first step is developing remote controlled vessels. This will have a deep impact on shipping industry, removing the risk of human error and improving fuel efficiency.
Otto’s flagship product is a retrofit kit that can turn any truck made after 2015 into an autonomous vehicle. Ever since Uber bought the transportation startup for a whopping $680 million, Otto has been a key contender in innovative travel. At a conference held earlier this month, company president and co-founder Lior Ron stated that AI trucks will be available within 10 years. In order to facilitate mass adoption, the company are tweaking the truck software to accommodate the need for space and slower reaction times of big vehicles.
Terrafugia was set up in 2006 and is something of a flying car veteran. The company has already developed the Transition, ‘the world’s first practical flying car’, which can be reserved for $10,000. Their aim for the future is to create a flying car for mass adoption called the TF-X. It’s an ambitious goal, and they have competition from various other companies – not to mention transportation giants Uber. Terrafugia are off to a good start, though, with a current investment total of $5.56 million and a functional product already in existence.
No disruptive transportation list would be complete without an appearance from the company behind reusable rockets – although we won’t be taking one of those to work any time soon. Late last year, SpaceX revealed the Hyperloop project. Hyperloop is essentially a superfast, electric train. It will cost $20 per journey – not bad, considering the travel time will be half that of an aeroplane. But like all current projects, adoption isn’t just around the corner. Commuters will have to wait – you guessed it – 10 years until the train is ready to board.
There are already serious changes underway in the travel and transportation industry. Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2021, and electric vehicles are already commercially available. Newer projects have set their sights within the next decade. Regardless of the range in timeframes, there is a clear emerging trend in the expansion of technological development for transportation methods other than cars. Research into innovative ships, planes and trucks is about improving our travel experiences, but it’s also about distributing physical objects. With the necessary investment and support, the above companies are gearing up to disrupt themselves as well as their industry – whilst having a profound impact on the businesses and organisations that rely on transportation.