Science fiction? Not anymore. Battery-powered planes, flying cars, and driverless cargo vehicles are aggressively being developed by these companies, and will profoundly change how we drive, commute, and move products.
Like a Hyperloop, Minus the Tube
Date company launched: 2016
Brogan BamBrogan, Co-founder and CEO
Nima Bahrami, Co-founder
Andrew Liu, Co-founder
Jaydon Smith, Co-founder
Dr. Knut Sauer, Co-founder
Imagine being able to travel at up to 200mph in your own car without having to place your hands on the wheel. Los Angeles-based Arrivo is currently developing a dedicated roadway in Colorado on which commuters and cargo can be transported at high-speed. The system, like a hyperloop, uses a linear induction motor to push objects in one direction at high speeds. But instead of moving vacuum-sealed pods on an air cushion like a classic hyperloop, Arrivo’s version of the technology accelerates sleds large enough to accommodate vehicles down an open maglev track.
Another significant difference between Arrivo and the classic version of hyperloop is in terms of distance traveled. Co-founder and CEO BamBrogan said that the company is focused on distances between 12-40km which can be expanded into regional networks. He added that their focus aims to end congestion where it happens.
“The problem isn’t getting from city A to city B,” BamBrogan said. “It’s getting to the airport in my city.”
BamBrogan noted that Arrivo’s innovative take on hyperloop technology could make existing transportation corridors more effective in part by eliminating traffic and increasing workforce mobility. He added that having the ability to travel quickly into a city such as Denver, where the company is currently building a test track, could prompt local governments to reconsider how cities are built.
Air Travel, Powered by Batteries
Date company launched: 2016
Founders: Jeff Engler, CEO
Wright Electric, a North Hollywood, California startup, is currently developing electric airplanes that could reduce air carriers’ reliance on expensive jet fuel and make them more environmentally responsible.
The airplanes will be powered by removable battery packs that will power smaller propellers located on the aircraft wings. Moreover, the models boast broader wingspans that could enable the planes to conserve some power by gliding.
Founder and CEO Jeff Engler has publicly acknowledged that it will take some time for existing technology to advance to the point where its all-electric model could become a reality. In the meantime, the company is looking at fuel/battery technology similar to that of a hybrid automobile in order to power the plane.
Some critics in the airline industry maintain that the sheer weight of a battery large enough to power an aircraft relative to jet fuel makes the all-electric model something of a pipe dream. But UK regional carrier EasyJet in 2017 entered into a partnership with Wright Electric to realize its own electric airplane goals. A company presentation for the new technology can be seen here. Notably, Boeing and Airbus are also working to develop versions of the technology as well.
A Flying Car You Can Park in Your Garage
Date company launched: 2006
Dr. Carl Dietrich, Co-founder and CTO
Anna Mracek Dietrich, Co-founder
Dr.Samuel Schweighart, Co-founder
Alex Min, Co-founder
Booking air travel is often an expensive and frustrating experience, but Woburn, Massachusetts-based Terrafugia is now working to make flying as easy as pressing a button.
The company has designed and tested a car that also operates as an aircraft. The vehicle, known as the Transition is a two-seat, folding-wing, aircraft that runs on unleaded gas and fits in a standard garage or parking spot.
“The Transition is now a hybrid-electric ground drive with a lithium iron phosphate battery,” Director of Business Development and Marketing, Håkan Apell said. “It previously ran only on automotive gas, but now there is a small batter which is charged through the combustion engine. In combination with the combustion engine propulsion the battery and electric power will give the vehicle an extra boost effect when needed.”
The Transition has a maximum cruise speed of 100 mph and can travel at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet for a distance of 400 miles. The vehicle, according to Terrafugia, is also a platform for advanced autonomous flight technologies such as full envelope protection and ground collision avoidance.
COO Anna Mracek Dietrich has said publicly that the Transition can significantly reduce door-to-door travel times and provide travelers with greater mobility upon landing. However some critics in the airline industry have maintained that a lack of access to runways is an obstacle to widespread adoption of the technology.
“You have to have runways to take off and land, and there are no downtown runways,” one industry analyst said. “Even if you have vertical lift, you’ll need helipads in order to accommodate users.”
Mracek Dietrich in a 2017 TED Talk lecture noted that there are “thousands” of underused airstrips across the US, and that on average there is one within 20-30 miles of most homes in the US. But whether a landing strip or a helipad are used, an intermodal vehicle in the garage will provide individuals with the means to travel longer distances than by car alone at a moment’s notice.
AI in the Driver’s Seat of These Cargo Trucks
Date company launched: 2016
Alex Rodrigues, Co-founder and CEO
Brandon Moak, Co-founder
Computers are considered by many to be “dumb machines,” but San Mateo-based Embark Trucks has developed and successfully tested an artificial intelligence (AI) that can “learn” how to drive cargo trucks.
The technology relies on an array of radars, cameras and depth sensors known as LiDARs to map of the area around a vehicle. According to the company, the AI analyzes the data and determines how to see through glare, fog and darkness without a human driver. The company has also programmed the AI with a set of “rules” for navigating and apply its experience to new situations on the road.
Embark’s currently requires human drivers to navigate in dense urban environments. But, as as the AI continues to learn, it could only be a matter of time before we could see fleets of autonomous cargo vehicles become a common site on highways and on city streets.
Click here to see the technology in motion.
Drones Handle Mission Critical Deliveries
Date company launched: 2015
Hannan Parvizian, Founder
Wesley Zheng, Co-founder
San Francisco-based startup Volans-i has developed autonomous drones that could drastically reduces the time it takes to ship critical cargo necessary for construction, emergency medicine, and disaster recovery operations door-to-door.
The autonomous drones have a twin-bound, fixed wing configuration that allows them to fly up to 1000 miles at a maximum cruising speed of 200mph.
The drones rely on a hybrid battery-fuel system to get around. Rechargeable batteries are employed during take off and landing, while aviation fuel is used to reach and maintain the cruising speed.
Co-founder Hannan Parvizian at a 2017 event said that the drones have a maximum altitude of 15,000 feet, but since they currently rely on LTE signals which are transmitted closer to the ground in order to function autonomously, they usually fly at 400-1000 feet.
Volans-i’s drone has a significantly greater degree of functionality than the more widely known commercial model. Not only could it revolutionize shipping and logistics, it may also help make our lives a little safer.
See the technology here.