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Hyperloop And Flying Cars: Are Futurists Like Elon Musk And Shervin Pishevar Right About The Future Of Travel?

If you watch old cartoons and films from the 60’s about what the early 2000’s would be like, you see a lot of flying cars and laser guns. Unfortunately outside of Star Trek and Back To The Future, nobody came particularly close to predicting future tech. However, in 2018 tech giants and investors are pushing science fiction toward reality when it comes to travel. But whose vision will come to fruition?

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Flying Cars vs Hyperloop

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Hyperloop is always in the news, because it’s quite frankly fascinating and would be awesome if put into practice. It’s been five years since Elon Musk first published his white paper on hyperloop, a futuristic transport that was designed to deliver passengers quickly and cheaply at speeds comparable to air travel, but at much more reasonable prices. Since he released that paper a lot of labor and investment dollars have been put into making this dream a reality, including from the pockets of Shervin Pishever, who has a habit of picking winners (Uber, Slack, Airbnb to name a few). So is hyperloop more viable than flying cars? Recently Elon Musk and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had a friendly back and forth on Twitter about which would be the future of travel.

The Tesla and SpaceX founder pointed out how loud and messy it would be to have so many flying cars zooming around. Khosrowshahi, whose Elevate initiative is pushing flying cars countered by saying improved batteries and multiple smaller rotors would cut down on the noise while keeping a handle on the pollution. Flying cars and Hyperloop are still very much in the concept phase, but the debate does raise interesting questions about which idea is more feasible.

Are Flying Cars Around The Corner?

TechCrunch / Via

The concept of flying cars dates back to the middle of the last century, and yet none ever went into production. However, despite always seeming to be just around the corner, there is optimism that things could actually come along this time. Thanks to Drone technology the model for flying cars is being totally reimagined. Older concepts pictured flying cars getting around using wings, however lately we’ve seen the emergence of multi-rotor passenger vehicles that are usually autonomous and powered by electricity.

Airbus designed a self-piloting Vahana multi-rotor concept that finished its first test flight in January, and then announced plans to have a production version prepared by 2020. There are more issues however than simply building these things. At the moment it’s not clear exactly what rules would govern these vehicles—standard aviation rules or new drone regulations designed to the address the desires of companies like Amazon who are committed to drone deliveries.

Uber imagines the same sort of ride-hailing service it provides today, but with passengers traveling instead to roof-top “Vertiports.” However, when you consider the infrastructure investment required to build a complex network of hubs like this, the considerable upfront costs of a fleet of flying cars, the short range of near-term battery technology, and how expensive it would be to train pilots (or developing safe autonomy), it’s hard to imagine this being feasible anytime soon, despite Uber’s confidence.

The Rise Of Hyperloop

Geekwire / Via

On the other hand, Musk’s vision for Hyperloop is based all around mass transit. After outlining the idea of launching passenger pods down a vacuum tube between Los Angeles and San Francisco at 760 mph five years ago, there are now proposed projects from Chicago to Mumbai, along with a number of companies—most notably Virgin Hyperloop One, dedicated to bringing his open source design to life. While the idea of Hyperloop is to deliver a green, low-cost, and faster alternative to flights or high-speed rail connecting to cities, Musk also wants a more modest Loop system that would work in urban areas. This would require a network of tunnels to be dug beneath a city with autonomous “electric sleds” running at 125 miles per hour that would be able to transport cars or passenger pods between elevators that open up to the street.

Despite Virgin Hyperloop One’s passenger pod reaching a top speed of 192 miles per hour in an experimental 500-meter-long tube, the technology is actually further behind than flying cars. The cost of building this infrastructure would make your eyes water. In an effort to tackle this issue, Musk has founded The Boring Company, whose goal is cut the cost of tunnelling from as much as $1 billion per mile in the US by over a factor of 10.

When it comes down to it, flying cars and sub-surface travel are probably not at odds. The development of one shouldn't have much of an impact on the other.

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