Our transport system, whichever way you look at it, is broken. Sure, most of us eventually get to where we need to go, but congestion and pollution are constant problems in cities across the world. When you consider the amount of time we spend just getting from one place to another, it makes you think there must be a better way.
The greatest minds in the transport industry have spent most of the last century offering us solutions such as bigger planes, faster trains, and more recently, greener automobiles. But if we want to truly revolutionise the transport experience for the better, then perhaps we need to look to individuals from outside the industry.
Later today Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, is expected to publically unveil details of Hyperloop, a proposed mode of transport he claims could cover the 340 miles (550km) from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes. Musk may get the headlines; however, others are thinking even more radically about the future of transport.
A group of students from the University of Glasgow and the Glasgow School of Art in the UK have devised Horizon, a system in which planes would lift and drop moving railway carriage-like “pods” from and onto the ground, thereby drastically cutting journey times. After studying the problems facing modern long-distance travellers, Andrew Flynn, Ewan Alston, Martin Keane and Mason Holden, sought to create a system that would significantly reduce the time it takes to get from points of departure to aeroplanes, and from them to destinations.
“One of the key things that we found was the lack of coherency between modes of transport – road, rail, and air,” says Holden. “There is no streamlined interface between the different modes.”
By the year 2050, the group imagines a long distance traveller will start their journey at a neighbourhood “SkyStation” where their luggage will be taken from them. The only security check required for the entire journey is carried out at this point. Passengers then board a “SkyLink” pod – essentially an autonomous train carriage propelled along a rail by magnetic levitation.
The 48 passengers these carry can, if they choose, remain in the same seat throughout the journey. Each pod has a battery large enough to provide power for not just itself, but also the plane. The battery is recharged through induction when the pod is on the ground, in a similar way proposed road-based charging of electric cars. Pods will also have luggage space, and two articulated hooks to attach them to planes.
The aircraft, which remain in the air almost all the time, will be a blended wing design - a flattened shape in which the body and wings are distinct but more smoothly blended than traditional planes. The result looks something like a manta ray. This design has the advantage of being able to fly at slower speeds.
On approach to a destination city, passengers are told to return to their seats from the bar or observation deck before the plane, which has no wheels or landing gear, swoops down at 150mph (240 kph) and is attached temporarily to the SkyLink track using electromagnetic coupling. The arriving pod is deposited onto the rails. As it decelerates, a departure pod on a parallel track accelerates to match the speed of the still moving plane. Once it is safely attached, the plane takes off again, fully charged and new passengers.
Without a lifetime of experience working within a specific industry, members of the Horizon System group are free of traditional restraints or predetermined beliefs about the way things should be.