Transforming transport: Where are we heading?

Posted on 7 Feb 2019 by Maddy White

Hydrogen trains, autonomous and electric cars and supersonic travel, the modes of transport we will use in a few years are looking to be radically different to what they are now. Here's what is happening.

autonomous car vehicle deposit
Autonomous cars will be tested on public roads in Britain by the end of this year – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Autonomous cars will be tested on public roads in the UK by the end of this year, and be fully operational by 2021, the government announced yesterday.

It was also reported that Britain’s market for connected and automated vehicles is estimated to rise to £52bn by 2035.

Transportation methods are transforming, and at a rapid rate. Aerospace companies are scrambling to be the first to launch supersonic jets after Concorde was axed 15 years ago. Automotive companies are pledging electric and low carbon vehicles, and trains are set to be fuelled by Hydrogen. 

Electric and driverless cars

Electric cars are being driven into the mainstream as more manufacturers pledge, including Britain’s biggest automotive maker Jaguar Land Rover, to convert their operations to producing environmentally friendly electric and low carbon vehicles.

A recent report predicted that by 2021, the cost of battery powered electric vehicles will match that of traditionally fuelled cars in Britain. According to the analysis from Deloitte, an additional 21 million electric vehicles (EVs) will be on roads across the world over the next decade.

Driverless or autonomous cars are also steering radical change in the automotive sector. Coventry-based manufacturer Aurrigo played the largest role in the world’s first ever multi-connected and autonomous vehicle demonstration last October, this further proving how vehicles can apply autonomous technology as a complete solution.

Autonomous ships

Autonomous ships could be the future for the maritime industry. The first fully autonomous ferry was tested at the end of last yearand it used advanced ship intelligence technologies to navigate its journey.

Autonomous ships could be the future for the maritime industry - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Autonomous ships could be the future for the maritime industry – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The demonstration saw Finferries’ Falco, journey between Finland’s Parainen and Nauvo. To carry out the trip, Rolls-Royce ship intelligence technologies was used.

This enabled the vessel to detect objects using sensor fusion and artificial intelligence, and to conduct collision avoidance strategies. 

One of the biggest benefits of introducing any autonomous vehicle, in maritime or automotive industries, is improved safety. Connected sensors should be able to scan surrounding environments and react accordingly, with of course no human error.

Hydrogen trains

You may not have heard that much about hydrogen trains, but that is set to change. Hydrogen trains are cleaner, quieter and cheaper to run than their diesel counterparts.

Hydrogen trains are greener, quieter and and cheaper to manage than conventional diesel trains. They also don't require expensive install expensive electrification infrastructure - image courtesy of Alstom.
Hydrogen trains are greener, quieter and and cheaper – image courtesy of Alstom.

French company, Alstom recently announced a deal with Eversholt Rail to convert diesel fuelled trains to hydrogen fuelled ones. The ‘Breeze’ trains are set to run on lines by early 2021 and will be converted at Alstom’s train modernisation facility in Cheshire.

The companies will partner in a world’s first to convert over 100 Class 321 trains to run on hydrogen fuel cell technology.

The technology involves hydrogen mixing with oxygen in the air to produce electricity. The hydrogen is burned while excess energy is stored in a backup lithium-ion battery. During this process, no carbon is emitted. However, the initial cost of introducing hydrogen trains is more expensive. 

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Supersonic jets

A supersonic aircraft is one that travels faster than the speed of sound. Supersonic aviation is most notably associated with British Airways’ Concorde, which made just under 50,000 flights and flew more than 2.5 million passengers supersonically over 27 years, according to BA.

The AS2 supersonic jet is being developed – image courtesy of Aerion.

With a cruising speed of 1,350 mph – more than twice the speed of sound – a journey from London to New York would take less than three and a half hours, as opposed to eight hours for a regular flight. Though it was axed in 2003 due to rising costs and lack of demand.

Earlier this week, Boeing announced it had made “a significant investment” in US start-up Aerion to accelerate technology development and aircraft design, with the goal to bring Aerion’s AS2 supersonic business jet to market.

Though concerns regarding the environment and economics of supersonic aircraft have been raised, as faster planes could emit more polluting carbon into the atmosphere and also not be cost-effective.

Transport systems are set to transform in order to be faster, safer, more cost-effective and environmentally friendly. However to achieve all of these objectives is a challenge. But change is happening rapidly, and who knows what transport will look like in even five years time.

Supersonic jets are certainly faster, though they are not currently environmentally friendly or cost-effective. Autonomous vehicles are thought to be safer and more efficient, but how could they become more environmentally viable – could they be electrically-powered instead? Hydrogen trains are sustainable, though not yet cost-effective. These technologies are still developing, but they are sure to be the transportation services of the very near future.