Disruptive Technology in Transport

DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY: TRANSPORTATION

Welcome to the second instalment of our new blog series where we showcase technical innovations that could revolutionise the world. Each article features a selection of disruptive technologies relating to a specific industry. In this article, we take a look at the latest and greatest developments in the transportation industry and wax philosophical about their potential to transform the world in which we live.

There are quite a few interesting videos embedded in this article, so to enjoy the full extent of this piece, we encourage you to take your time to read and watch this. 


One of the catalysts for creating this series was a discussion we had about the ridiculousness that is the HS2 project. Everyone seems to have their own opinion about whether it’s a ‘good thing’ or a ‘bad thing’, but after looking at all of the facts, we’re not sure how anyone can think it’s the best option, especially when we have so many others at our disposal.

But let’s save that conversation for another day.

Whilst researching some of the alternatives to the HS2, we were absolutely astonished by some of the recent transportation-related technologies out there — some of which could be used as an alternative to the HS2 project, whilst others are just plain awesome!

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the mode of transportation that got us thinking about this stuff in the first place.

Trains

MagLev is short for ‘magnetic levitation’, which is this train’s method of propulsion. Basically the train uses magnets instead of wheels. They are superior to traditional trains in that they’re quieter, the ride is smoother, and they can go a lot faster – up to 500 km/h! If that wasn’t enough, they’re virtually unaffected by weather, and they use significantly less energy. Oh, and they’re cheaper to maintain and better for the environment.

It’s not a pipe dream either — Germany and Japan are already using them. Which begs the question… why aren’t we?

Evacuated Tube Transport (or ETT, or ET3 as it’s sometimes called) is similar to MagLev, except instead of the train moving out in the open, it travels in an evacuated tube, so there is no air resistance when it travels. And man oh man, can it travel! With the potential to travel at approximately 4,000mph you could go from New York to Los Angeles in 45 minutes, or from New York to China in 2 hours. And it comes with the same benefits as MagLev: smoother, faster, unaffected by weather, faster, safer, faster, cleaner, faster, faster, faster!!!

In the same way that the Internet has connected humanity in the virtual world, ET3 could connect us — all of us — in the physical world.

(Here’s another video about ET3 if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03kVU2FYl6U#t=156)

In case you haven’t guessed already, there’s a slight problem with ET3… it would require a massive investment of time, money and political/legal manoeuvring to create the infrastructure needed to actually build it on a transcontinental scale. However, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t start small and gradually work our way up towards global coverage… which is exactly what the Hyperloop project is trying to do.

Hyperloop is very similar to the ET3 but is set to become reality, thanks to Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors. According to Elon Musk, the Hyperloop is a cross between an air hockey table, a railgun and a Concorde jet. But it’s basically just a slimmed-down version of ET3, reaching speeds of 760mph. That means that you could travel from Glasgow to London in about 30 minutes. Why are we building the HS2 again?!

What makes this project even cooler is that instead of Elon Musk building it, he’s making it all open-source, which means all of the designs and engineering schematics are going to be made available free for anyone to download, improve, build, etc. That might sound like a cop-out, but we think it’s the exact opposite. Expect the Hyperloop (or some variation of it) to start making headlines in the next few years.

Driverless Cars

In 2012, the UK recorded nearly 200,000 road casualties, including 1,754 deaths. The main causes of these accidents were speeding, drink driving, careless driving and inexperience behind the wheel — in other words, human drivers. The solution? Let the car drive itself! That’s the idea behind driverless cars, something that Google and many other companies have invested a lot of time and money in already. Sound crazy? Too futuristic? Maybe even a little dangerous? Well, in August 2012, Google announced that they’ve completed over 300,000 autonomous-driving miles… without a single accident. Okay, there were a couple accidents along the way, but all of them happened whilst a human driver was operating the car.

Even Milton Keynes is testing them out! Expect them on a pavement near you by the end of next year.

Open-Source Cars

The open-source movement has, until recently, operated exclusively within the software industry, giving us ‘geeky’ things like Linux, Apache, PHP and MySQL, and more ‘mainstream’ things like Wikipedia, WordPress, Magento, Firefox, Thunderbird and Open Office.

But something incredible has happened… the open-source movement has started to infiltrate the ‘real’ world. Instead of just open-source software, now we’re starting to see open-source hardware. Examples include an open-source electronics prototyping platform, mobile phones, the train we mentioned earlier, and many others.

And now we can add open-source cars to that list.

TABBY is the first open-source framework for the creation of vehicles. You download the instructions, buy the parts and assemble it yourself.

Ok, that’s pretty cool… but… you could argue that it’s nothing more than a glorified kit car (which is hardly a disruptive technology), and to some extent we would agree.

However…

WikiSpeed takes the idea of an open-source car and takes it to the next level, in a variety of different ways. First of all, the car is completely modular, which means that you can change the engine from diesel to electric in about the same time it would take you to change a tyre, or you could switch from a convertible car chassis to a truck chassis. Other highlights include:

  • 0 to 60 MPH in 5 seconds
  • Top speed of 149 MPH
  • It’s the lightest car ever to achieve a five-star equivalency rating for front, side, and rear-impact tests.

If you only watch one video the whole way through, this is the one to watch. Why? Because the amazing thing about WikiSpeed isn’t the fact that it’s an open-source sports car (even though that’s pretty amazing) — the really amazing thing about WikiSpeed is how the company operates. Rather than using traditional product development cycles, it uses the same ‘agile’ development practices that modern software developers use. Why is that amazing? Well, among other things, it allows them to make an improvement to the design of the car and bring that change to market in seven DAYS, as opposed to seven YEARS, which is how long it takes most car manufacturers to implement a change. Of course, if you extrapolate that concept and apply it to other areas of the company, you can see how WikiSpeed isn’t just selling the car of the future… it’s an example of how manufacturing companies will operate in the future… the very near future.

Final Thoughts from Jeremy

“As far as alternatives to the HS2 project are concerned, I think we should be seriously considering the Hyperloop. It’s cheaper, faster, cleaner, safer and would almost certainly be more reliable. Not to mention the economic benefits that would accompany its implementation and operation. As for the other transportation-related technologies, there are definitely some emerging trends that we should be paying attention to. As the open-source movement continues to infiltrate the physical world, more and more car manufacturers (and indeed, all manufacturers) will have to adapt their business models or they’ll soon find themselves unable to compete. Similarly, the emerging trend of ‘agile development’ making its way into the manufacturing industry means that the age of outdated, bureaucratic, slow-moving companies with legacy business policies & procedures is coming to an end. The question is… will those companies bury their heads in the sand and carry on with ‘business as usual’ or will they embrace the brave new world of digital, open-source & agile development? As with most things, time will tell. But as technology continues its exponential advancement, I have a sneaky feeling we won’t be waiting that long to find out.”

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