Roads are clogged. Trains are always late. And the once-glamorous air travel now feels like livestock transportation.
Much has changed over the past thirty years, but transport systems have remained largely unchanged. Of course, planes, trains, and automobiles now use far more technology, but the underlying systems have remained remarkably similar. Until now.
Here are some cutting-edge transport technologies shaping the industry's future.
The number of people travelling by plane has increased exponentially since modern low-cost airlines became popular around 1995. However, airport and aeroplane systems have yet to catch up with the surge in demand and have remained largely unchanged since Easyjet and Ryan Air started taking more of us to the skies. Fortunately, many companies are working towards improving passenger experience, both in the airport and onboard the plane.
ICM – creating a seamless check-in
ICM Airport Technics specialises in self-service bag drop solutions. The company has processed more than 100 million bags worldwide, and its products include both retrofitted and replacement Auto Bag Drop (ABD) units.
ICM's retrofit solutions enable passengers to check-in themselves, putting them in control of the process and allowing customer service agents to focus on safety and security. Advanced retrofit solutions include additional detection devices for a more secure process.
ABDs are fully automated bag drop solutions with high security and safety features, including biometrics, ergonomics, and exceptional durability.
The travel tech company also designs check-in kiosks in the same style as their ABDs, so passengers have a consistent experience throughout the entire check-in and bag drop process. Finally, ICM also makes the Smart Biopod, which provides a touchless and hygienic passenger departure flow using integrated facial recognition biometric technology.
Inflight VR focuses on inflight passenger entertainment using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology. The company has designed and built a headset allowing passengers to enter a 3D world to visually and psychologically escape the challenging inflight experience.
Entertainment previously consisted of a few old movies and reruns of friends, but Inflight VR’s system lets people attend concerts, go to cinemas, and walk around the city of their choice. This allows passengers to feel more comfortable as they feel as if they have more space.
Yet while some VR encourages vigorous movement, Inflight VR selects content suited to air travel to ensure that fellow passengers are not bothered by excessive movements. The cabin management system also permits interactions between the cabin crew and passengers.
Inflight VR’s headset allows passengers to use their often-wasted time onboard a flight to be productive. As well as entertainment, passengers can also make purchases from a 3D mall, book hotel rooms, or attend an event they have seen through their headsets.
Trains are experiencing a renaissance. Increased preoccupation for the environmental impact of travel has encouraged millions of passengers to travel by rail. France's ban on short-haul domestic flights is likely to inspire more countries to pass laws incentivising train travel, which means network upgrades are necessary to make long-distance travel by train a viable option.
An extra billion journeys are expected within the next ten years in the UK alone. Building new infrastructure is expensive and disruptive, so companies are relying on technological solutions to increase capacity, reduce delays, enhance safety, and decrease costs.
Many railway companies are designing digital railway strategies to increase the number of journeys without building more infrastructure and making the current system more efficient.
Companies such as Siemens Mobility and Atkins are creating in-cab signalling technology, which strives to reduce passenger delays by thousands of hours. Old lineside signals are being replaced with real-time digital signalling technology, enabling signallers to talk to trains continuously rather than only at fixed points. They will be able to give instructions and respond in real-time, reducing delays whilst improving performance.
Also, traffic management systems are being introduced to help operators manage train timetables. One such system, the Thales ARAMIS system, currently provides real-time enhanced data to operators, flags potential conflicts, and helps train running controllers proactively manage services. It can help a huge number of trains a day by minimising negative consequences of delays and allowing real time re-planning.
IoT solutions that listen to the railway
Internet of things (IoT) devices use an intelligent infrastructure to 'listen' to the railway to detect issues such as wheel flats and damaged cables before they become more significant problems and cause delays.
Implementing a predict-and-prevent maintenance strategy by collecting data from multiple sites across the network improves the system—particularly from previously inaccessible areas.
The rising popularity of electric vehicles is undoubtedly helping improve air quality; however, critics often make the case that replacing one type of car with another does not do enough to address transport safety and sustainability concerns.
However, several companies have used the latest transport technology and broken free from the limitations of traditional designs and reconceptualised vehicles—from how they are made to how they interact with pedestrians.
Volta trucks – electric trucks for sustainable cities
Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) have traditionally produced high emissions. They have also been responsible for more than a quarter of pedestrian fatalities and three-quarters of cyclist fatalities. Citizens are demanding that their cities become safer and greener.
Volta Trucks has been working on a solution. The electric truck manufacturer's vision is to mitigate the effects of the truck industry on climate change, improve the air quality in city centres to ensure a better quality of life, and make the industry more inclusive.
Volta believes its electric trucks directly mitigate some of the negative impacts traditional HGVs have on the environment through tailpipe emissions reductions. However, the company is also endeavouring to reduce its vehicles' overall impact on the environment by focusing on elements such as the components the trucks are built from, its supply chain, and its manufacturing footprint.
For example, Volta Trucks' load-carrying capacity is optimised so that operators can use fewer vehicles. The company claims that one Volta Zero can remove up to five smaller vans from the roads, reducing congestion on city streets and improving air quality for all.
Also, the company's life-cycle analysis allows it to identify areas for continuous improvement—it uses data to minimise environmental impact over the vehicle's lifespan, from design to manufacturing.
To improve safety, Volta has wholly redesigned the truck's cab. It has 220-degree vision, giving the driver a panoramic view. The driver also sits in a low and central position, eliminating blind spots and mirroring the eye-line of nearby pedestrians and other road users for easy visual communication.
Switch is an electric vehicle company that makes buses. However, the company does not just make vehicles that are electric; it is a company that uses technology in every part of the design and manufacturing process.
Depending on its client's needs, the company builds bespoke batteries, allowing them to choose how long they want the battery to last.
It gathers and analyses over 2TB of data daily to understand the most it can about its vehicles, allowing them to be continuously improved. Its i-Alert platform ensures that vehicles run efficiently as customers can remotely access their vehicles’ performance and check their diagnostics and battery management. When vehicles need to be optimised, clients can also remotely update their software.
From speed restrictions to automatic emergency braking, Switch vehicles communicate with the world around them to ensure the highest levels of safety.
The vehicles' body panels are made from plant-based composites, which are solid and ultra-lightweight. They do not degrade, and any repairs or replacements can make easily.
Technology has made significant advances over the past five years, but transport feels as if it has not fully reaped the benefits—it is still a necessary evil rather than a pleasurable experience. However, there is a growing number of companies producing exciting transport technology that will make the industry more efficient, safer, and enjoyable.