You nudge your head to the side, scrolling through holographic pages of the morning news, as your capsule catapults down the frictionless tube on your morning commute to work.
In this future snapshot, there are three or four very real technologies that are due to become a part of daily life by the year 2040.
You’ll discover a cacophony of today’s fringe technologies that have the greatest likelihood of making it into the urban life and landscape of the future. Finally, we’ll take a look at one of the coolest CGI images of just such a future city, displaying many of those technologies and what that future city could really look like. Make sure to check out that graphic at the bottom of this post!
Antigravity and Hovering
One area of advanced science that is always ripe for hoaxes and scam artists is that of antigravity. Through the years, there has been every hoax from from Canadian John Hutchinson’s videos showing an assortment of objects he claims he can make hover (though no one else can repeat the experiments), to the HUVr “hoverboard” hoax perpetrated by the folks at the Funny or Die website.
The dream of flying is what led to the invention of airplanes, but humans continue to dream of traveling across the Earth, unburdened by the resistance of the ground. Setting the bogus stuff aside, is there any science that supports the idea that one day there will be vehicles that can hover over the Earth, and provide travel from place to place without the need for paved roads?
You might be surprised to know that the answer is — yes. Hovercraft technology has come a long way since Chris Cockerell invented the first water-based hovercraft concept in 1956. Today, the technology is on the very edge of becoming mainstream in the form of a new hoverbike by a company named Aerofex, which has promised to start selling the first generation off-road hoverbikes in 2017.
According to Discovery News, the bikes will sell for about $85,000, and will have the ability to lift up to 3.7 meters off the ground. The use of high-powered ducted fans to allow travel over land without roads has been a dream for hovercraft enthusiasts for many years, and it appears to be on the edge of being commercially available.
That’s fine and good for someone with eighty-five grand to spare and some flat terrain to float around on, but what about regular travelers and the transportation of the future? Well, one sign of future direction comes from Toyota, which just this year in June announced that the company was exploring the concept of cars that could hover just above the road (or the water).
Who knows exactly what technology Toyota would use to accomplish this, but it appears to be similar to the hovercraft technology as the hoverbike.
The news came from the Bloomberg Next Big Thing conference, where R&D chief Hiroyoshi Yoshiki responded to an interview question admitting that Toyota was actually exploring the concept.
“We have been studying the flying car in our most advanced R&D area. [Hovering] just a little bit away from the road so that it doesn’t have any kind of friction or resistance from the road.”
The fact that the first commercial hoverbike is slated for 2017, and a major automaker has already admitted to seeking ways to lift its cars into the air, it’s conceivable that in about 15-20 years there could be flying cars in the skies above the world’s cities.
Aircar Rest Areas
Just like the infrastructure necessary for gasoline cars driving along paved roads for the past several decades, the evolution of cars into the airborne variety will demand its own infrastructure.
The investment into and creation of this infrastructure will likely come from the tremendous public demand for these new cars when they come out — especially if they are cheaper to operate, allow for faster and more efficient travel, and remove the need to continue destroying the Earth with an ever-growing number of paved roads.
The sort of infrastructure required to support such airborne cars include rest areas on skyscrapers, where cars can enter and land on various levels. A variation of today’s “air traffic control” towers, with such towers erected in the center of large urban areas to control air traffic by advising drivers at what altitude and direction air travel in the area is allowed. Most importantly fuel stations — probably large portals — will need electric-powered hover-cars to glide through in order to wirelessly recharge.
Once again, Toyota leads the way in wireless electric car charging innovation as well. Just this year in February, Autoweek announced that Toyota had started testing a system that allowed for charging the batteries of its electric cars just by parking the car on top of a special platform.
It isn’t a very big stretch of the imagination to see how an electrically powered hovercraft would simply glide into a refueling station, pay for a rapid recharge, and wait for a specific period of time for the hovercraft batteries to become recharged.
High Speed Rail Transport
Of course, just as auto travel will make huge strides over the next couple of decades, so will mass transit. In particular, the concept of Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) will likely become more commercially viable once the cost of traditional fossil fuels make the use of gasoline and electric mass transport systems cost prohibitive.
The ETT concept is impressive, although probably most effective for long distance travel. The way it works is a superconducting maglev train is placed inside of vacuum tubes. Electric motors accelerate the train to the top speed, and then the train — thanks to zero air resistance — simply coasts along at upwards of 4,000 mph, without consuming much energy at all.
Once the train arrives at its destination, the slowing process could actually be designed to recapture the energy from the slowing train, and almost recoup the energy that was required to accelerate it. The train would have no moving parts, so very little maintenance. The highest cost of the system would likely be the pumps and maintenance required to keep the tubes evacuated. Still, that cost would likely pale in comparison to the rising cost of fossil fuels.
A Robotic Urban Landscape
The other fascinating technology likely to have a significant impact on the future of urban living, is that of robotics. Just recently, Andre described some of the cutting edge robots that currently exist today. These robots can move and act like humans in many ways, and in some cases they can even perform more work with higher quality.
So, how will robots change the urban landscape?
People are often anxious about a world where robotic artificial intelligence takes over certain human roles like law enforcement and crowd control. However, that is a future we’re likely to face, according to Professor Noel Sharkey, a robotics professor at the University of Sheffield.
In his paper titled “2084: Big robot is watching you“, Sharkey explains that jobs in the fields of surveillance, security and law enforcement will be handled almost entirely by robots in 30 years time, because they keep actual humans out of harm’s way.
“They keep the police out of harm’sway in an increasingly dangerous world of armed criminals, gangs and terror organisations.”
While there may be robot police patrols roaming the streets, the biggest change in society over the next couple decades or so will be the robots that start entering into the home — as pets.
Pet’s provide a sense of security and companionship to many thousands of people all across the world. For some, having a pet is on the same level emotionally as having a child. But, is such a connection possible with a robotic animal? Early indications imply that it is.
One example of this is a robot named Bandit that was used by researchers at the University of Southern California to treat stroke victims. Chief researcher Eric Wade told PS Magazine that patients actually began bonding with Bandit.
“People will try to hug the robots. We go out to nursing homes, and people ask, ‘When’s the robot coming back?'”
Similar robots as Bandit are used to provide therapeutic support to patients in a number of ways — from lifting the spirits of lonely shut-ins to training autistic children how to communicate. In some cases, people became so attached to the robot that they even gave it a kiss.
Of course, Bandit is more of a humanoid robot than a pet, but the same phenomenon is noticed when people interact with very life-like robotic pets.
Case in point, the PARO robot made in Japan.
This is only a next generation plus robot toy similar to many available on the market today, except the PARO can react to being petted by moving its head and tail, and it even turns to look in the direction of movement.
According to PS Magazine, the same human reaction to PARO was observed, nearly identical to the reaction to Bandit. PARO was created in 2003 and sold thousands of units, and become a leading therapeutic robot pet — especially for the elderly.
In fact, one nursing home study reported that some patients believed the robotic pets were real, and even started talking to it as though it was a real, live animal.
A Glimpse at a Future City
So, without further ado, and taking all of the above technologies and predictions into account, the following CGI provides the closest approximation to what cities of the future will start to look like.
Most of the technologies listed above are portrayed pretty accurately in the CGI image above, created by Gelmi Estúdio de Arte of Brazil, and used here with permission.
The hovercar technology is obvious, though what is especially exciting about this image is just how the use of flying cars dramatically transforms the city floor from one of pavement, to one of lawns and trees. Not only would this improve the quality of life in a city, but it would also transform the quality of air deep inside of cities.
In the image above, you can also see a ring in the center, a sort of “refueling” portal where hovercars would go to recharge. You can also see the new traffic-control towers erected to monitor and control busy air traffic. While the monorail in the image is not the vacuum capsule bullet-trail described in the article, it’s surely a frictionless system of a similar sort.
Then there is of course, the person walking the dog. However, if you look very closely, you’ll see that fido is in fact a robotic dog. And why would a robotic dog need to take a walk? Why, for the enjoyment of the owner, that’s why.
Do you see any other impressive future urban technologies in the CGI image above? Which technologies do you feel are missing from the futuristic depiction of a city? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!