Traveling for work seems glamorous at first, but as most frequent business travelers will tell you, it quickly becomes drudgery. After a while, every airport terminal looks the same, and the in-flight entertainment gets as stale as the sandwich you unceremoniously stuffed in your carry-on. It's no wonder that tired travelers spend their free time daydreaming about a futuristic world where nearly instantaneous transportation is the norm. Let's indulge our imaginations together as we look at some of the most interesting, bizarre and downright awesome concepts in futuristic travel today.
You can't talk about futuristic travel without talking about flying cars. One of the earliest renderings of a flying car (technically an aerial steam carriage) is from 1841. It seems that, as soon as man could move with ease on the ground, he wanted to abandon it for the sky.
The dream of a future with flying cars is still alive thanks to such innovative companies as Urban Aeronautics, AeroMobil, PAL-V, Moller International and Terrafugia. While most of these are just in the concept stages, there are a few working prototypes like the Volocopter, which was shown off at the 2018 CES. Just think – instead of sitting through rush-hour traffic on your way to work, you could be soaring through the sky as you listen to podcasts and burn your tongue on overpriced coffee that you bought from a surly robotic barista with lug nuts for gauges.
We're not far from a future when we'll all have devices like these that translate languages in real time. Several companies are working on earpieces that will transform the way people think about international business forever. Imagine a world with no language barriers at all – that's the goal for such companies as Pocketalk, Waverly Labs, Mymanu and ili, which are all currently pioneering wearable auditory translation technology. Google Translate has been an invaluable tool for translating language over the web, and with Google's Pixel Buds, it brings that technology to a near, instant translation device.
Someday, possibly sooner than you think, tangled power cords and international adapters will be a distant memory, thanks to innovations in inductive charging technology. Powermat is a product that allows you to charge your phone without plugging it in, but it still requires direct contact. The Cota Tile and WattUp are transmitters that can remotely charge smartphones, wearables, laptops and other devices by sending the charge through the air. Once a tiny receiver is installed in each device, this technology can automatically sense and power your electronics as needed. There are already wireless power sources available for specific devices on the market, but something that can be physically built into airports, hotels and other public spaces feels like the true end goal.
What's crazier than a flying car? How about locking yourself in a pressurized capsule that gets shot through a steel tube at about 600 mph? Welcome to the hyperloop, an awesome idea that's probably decades (if not longer) away from being a reality. Innovators such as Hyperloop Technologies, TransPod and DGWHyperloop are working around the clock to make hyperloop travel a reality. These are pods that work similarly to subways. The Boring Company is an experimental system that can transport you and your car over 100 mph underground.
Hyperloop travel wouldn't just impact businesspeople who travel internationally – although it would be a tremendous advantage for them. It would also change the way people think about daily commutes. High-speed travel options would make it feasible to live on the beach in Miami and work in downtown Atlanta, and the commute would take about the same amount of time it currently takes to travel on the New York City subway from Queens to Manhattan.
If you hate carrying your own luggage, get ready to be happy. Travelmate Robotics has released its robotic suitcase that can be programmed to follow you around like a dutiful four-wheeled dog, by tracking a sensor in a wearable wrist accessory. You can also use your smartphone to control the Travelmate. The suitcase has other unique features, including a handle that turns into a portable desk (great for working during long layovers) and a battery that can charge electronics via USB. The Travelmate isn't the only robotic suitcase approaching the market: ForwardX is another company gearing up to sell its own autonomous suitcase.
Suspended monorails have been around for a long time, but until recently, they've been confined to amusement parks and airports with terrible layouts. Now SkyTran, headquartered at the NASA Ames Research Center, is trying to change all of that, and it looks like it's succeeding. The company has already tested and debuted its futuristic self-driving pods, which hang from a monorail and reach a maximum speed of 155 mph. While this might seem like something that's a long time from happening, SkyTran insists that it will debut its first fully functional system in Lagos, Nigeria, by 2020. The company has recently suspended its public exposure until it's finished with its first functional system.
It may be sometime before public policy catches up, but the technology that make self-driving cars possible is nearly realized. Already, many companies like Tesla have autopilot features that allows their cars to make course corrections and simple maneuvers; however, the company claims their cars have the hardware to be fully autonomous. Google also has a working prototype for a self-driving vehicle called Waymo that uses cameras and AI to drive. How this technology adapts will depend on how the laws concerning road safety and infrastructure roll out.
Additional reporting by Andreas Rivera.