Thursday, February 28, 2013

Journey of a lifetime

What is the future of urban and international mobility? From driverless cars to ‘lilypad’ cities, Hello 2020 considers how we will get from A to B and beyond in the decades to come
Within the next 20 years, transport systems will need to accommodate rapid population growth throughout the world. The population in Asia and Africa alone is set to triple, which will put pressure on the world’s oil reserves, 85 million barrels of which we consume every day. But thanks to advances in technology, the world of transport looks set to adapt to the changing demands.
Expo 2020 Dubai, UAE
‘Lilypad’ city could offer a new home for populations affected by rising sea levels
World-renowned futurologist James Bellini, whose clients include Microsoft, the BBC and Barclays, believes single-driver electric-powered cars will become the norm by 2032. “Seventy per cent of people today drive alone. Automobile design will increasingly favour single-passenger capacity, powered by electric and later solar arrangements,” he says. “Exciting new materials such as graphene, willow glass and carbon nanotubes will underwrite startling new designs and even driverless capabilities.”

Graphene is arguably the strongest material on the planet. It’s made of pure carbon, with its atoms arranged in a hexagonal pattern in a one-atom-thick sheet. This makes it incredibly strong even though it’s as thin as paper. Graphene would be ideal for creating long-lasting, lightweight bodyworks for vehicles of the future. With willow glass (a very thin but durable glass as flexible as plastic) and carbon nanotubes (tiny, near unbreakable straws that can triple a microchip’s performance) included, these cars of the future could be something not just of impeccable style but of unrivalled performance and safety.

One interesting approach to future public travel is the ‘superbus’, a high-speed luxury bus that is a cross between a stretch limo and a minibus. Powered by electricity, it can travel at 155mph. The first prototype of the ‘superbus’, developed in the Netherlands, has already been showcased to cities such as Hanover and Dubai, which are keen to introduce a clean-energy mode of public transport. And that’s not the only benefit; developers believe it could also help answer the problems of road congestion as soon as 2020.

Another revolutionary development in public transport is being advanced by British scientist Martin Lowson. Lowson first made his mark working for Nasa on the Apollo space missions, where he headed a team of 50 people working on the Saturn V rocket which blasted the likes of Neil Armstrong into space. For the past 15 years he has been working on the driverless car or ‘ULTra pod’ (Urban Light Transport). Lowson believes that his futuristic driverless shuttles will prove “better than the car for city travel”. The ULTra pod can hold as many as six passengers and travel distances of five kilometres, moving along conveyor-like tracks built 20 feet above ground. Powered by batteries, it can run for three hours before being recharged at special points.

Building a complete ULTra pod system for the whole city uses around a sixth of the resources needed for building new roads. It is also more durable than the roads, costs 40 per cent less to run than a bus and is 60 per cent faster. ULTra pods are already in place at London’s Heathrow Airport and a similarly designed system has been set up at Abu Dhabi’s zero-carbon Masdar City. “We believe it is the future for public transport in most cities around the world,” says Lowson.

But what about long-haul travel? “Future aircraft will reflect the search for greener, lighter and more fuel-efficient means of transport, with lower costs per passenger, coupled with greatly increased passenger capacity,” says futurologist Bellini. “It would not surprise me if commercial aircraft by the 2030s have a capacity of 2,000-plus passengers. A concept such as Boeing’s SUGAR Volt aircraft, which would run on a hybrid power arrangement (part gas engine, part electrical), could viably be commonplace in the 2030s.”

Technology will also affect the way we ship goods in the future. The basic unit of the global economy is the container, andevery year a vast fleet of freighters hauls more than 17 million of them to destinations around the world. In 2032, the ships will get bigger, the routes will get better and the ports smarter. Initiatives such as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor that connects key trading hubs through top-class infrastructure, and Dubai’s Logistics Corridor, which links sea, land and air hubs, and allows cargo to move between airport and seaport in less than an hour, are already revolutionising the way in which goods are moved about.

With the world’s oil supplies dwindling, companies will increasingly turn to biofuels for power. “Biofuels will account for a substantial portion of total fuel production and use over the next 20 years,” says clean-tech specialist Steve Weiss. According to Weiss, within the next 20 years we could power our cars, trains and planes with fuel that’s more forgiving on the environment and also our pockets. Not only does the advancement of biofuel technology mean that the economy will be able to cope with dwindling resources, but it would also mean lower fuel prices, as the cost of producing biofuel is considerably less when compared with oil extraction and refinement. “Expect less volatile pricing, reduced eco-impact and higher energy security,” says Weiss. “A biofuels industry should spur additional economic development as new supply chains form from turning agricultural waste and marginal land into valuable assets.”

The International Energy Agency insists the global boom in renewable energy will continue and that one-third of the world will run on clean power by 2035. A recent report states: “Renewables will become the world’s second-largest source of power generation by 2015 (roughly half that of coal) and by 2035 they will approach coal as the primary source of global electricity.”

Looking even further ahead, rather than climb into a vehicle that takes us to a different city, our city could travel with us. That’s the concept behind ‘Lilypad’ cities designed by French architect Vincent Callebaut as a solution to rising sea levels. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global sea levels are expected to rise between 9cm and 88cm by 2100, with a ‘best estimate’ of 50cm, and the melting of the ice caps could leave low-lying islands submerged.

‘Lilypad’ city is designed to float around the world as an independent and fully self-sustainable home. With a lake at its centre to collect rainwater, it would be accessed by three separate marinas and feature artificial mountains to offer as many as 50,000 inhabitants a change of scenery from the seascape. It will generate its own power from the sun, water and wind, emitting zero emissions. Some countries spend billions making their beaches and dams bigger and stronger. “‘Lilypad’ is a long-term solution to the problem of the water rising,” says Callebaut. “Accommodating the millions left homeless by environmental changes will prove to be one of the great challenges of the 21st century.”

Source : Hello 2020

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