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Transport today
05.03.2020

Transport of the future:  smooth, serial, string one.

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On 10th January 1863, the world's first underground line was opened in London. Since then, writers, artists and engineers have been thinking about how to make transport faster and more comfortable. There appeared trolleybuses, cars, trains and planes, but the question of the ideal transport of the future still remains a concern for scientists and ordinary people. 

In this article, I will tell you about what people of the 20th century were expecting from the transport of the future, which of these predictions came true, and whether the SkyWay string transport can qualify for this title. 

Smooth and autonomous: how was the transport of the future visualized by people?

In their images of the transport of the future, the designers and artists of the past tried to solve the problems which transport of that time had: low speed, lack of comfort and high accident rate.

All authors saw the transport of the future in their own way, but one detail can be found on almost all illustrations: it is a smooth, streamlined shape of the vehicle. Buses, cars and airplanes were depicted as «pointed» and elongated, reflecting the high speed that transport could develop in the future. 

          
Images of future cars by Japanese illustrator Shigeru Komatsuzaki

The streamlined form of the transport and the small dimensions with which the artists depicted the transport of the future were primarily indicative of a desire to make vehicles faster. The importance of aerodynamics in the automotive industry was taken seriously already in the 1930s. годы. 

 
Concept of future transport in the Japanese magazine of 1936 with balls instead of tires. According to the author's idea, the smoothness of movement on the road was increased in such a way. 

A separate problem with transport since its invention has been affordability. Only wealthy people could afford private transport, and public transport lacked capacity. 

      
                Первый петербургский омнибус 1832 год

In the future, public transport has always seemed large and spacious, so that many people could quickly get from home to work and comfortably travel between cities.

   
Imagining the public transportation of the future by Timken Axles company at the beginning of the last century

One of the problems that emerged with the invention of road transport was traffic jams. During one hundred years from 1910 to 2010, the world fleet of motor vehicles grew by1000 times from 1 million to 1 billion, while the population of the Earth grew only by 4.5 times. For this reason, many artists depicted transport hovering above the ground, where it would not stand in traffic jams. The trains of the future, like cars, could be moving, according to the artists' ideas, overcoming the force of gravity. 

   
Imagining Russia in the future by the artists of the 30s with flying trains. In the background, you can see the never-built Palace of Soviets

Some artists promoted the idea of using electric motors in vehicles. They depicted futuristic charging stations instead of gas stations and electric roads where cars charge themselves.

Another desire of the authors was to make personal transport autonomous and safe in the future for the driver not to have to watch the road and hold the wheel. This need is also reflected in statistics. From 1913 to 1917, 6700 people died on the roads of the United States, and in 1970 ndash; already 54 633 people, which is 8 times more. 

    
   The idea of autonomous transport from an advertising poster in the 50s. 

On the artists' illustrations, the ideal transport of the future was fast, not standing in traffic jams, not getting into accidents and differing in capacity. With the course of technological progress, these requirements have not changed, and engineers with each decade became closer to the ideal transport. 

What kind of transport was the future transport like? /strong>

The first thing that the engineers tried to implement from the ideas of the futurists in real transport is a combination of high speed and comfort of driving, providing a vehicle with a streamlined shape. 

The 30th were the first time when people started thinking about transport speed. Then, the vehicle began to be considered as a car that moves in air environment, and the conditions of this environment should be considered in its design. But the first attempts to improve aerodynamics were more cosmetic and did not affect the speed and smoothness of movement. 

    
   Pseudo aerodynamic body on Delahaye Type 165 chassis in 1939

Today, we know that the aerodynamics of a car determines fuel consumption, speed performance and stability on the road. One of the reasons why modern cars have become so similar to each other is because of the aerodynamic elements of vehicles' bodies.

           
The fastest mass-production car in the world Koenigsegg Agera RS,& nbsp;which accelerated to 447 km/h in 2017

The speed of modern transport is far superior to that people imagined in the past. However, the high speed of serial cars (up to 450 km/h) cannot be safely maintained on ordinary roads. Therefore, the concept of fast and comfortable transport is best embodied in high-speed trains.

      

But even taking into account the high speed of ground transport, the problem of comfort of movement was not completely resolved. This is especially true for densely populated countries with a poorly developed transport structure.

       
Today, such a situation in India is possible only on big holidays. But even with rare exceptions, it doesn't fit the phrase «the train of the future»

At the end of the 20th century, engineers began to approach the problem of environmentally friendly electric motor, which people dreamed of in the past. At the beginning of the last century, electric cars were moving at about the same speed as ordinary cars. The main problem was weak batteries and the lack of charging stations. 

In 1991, this problem was solved with the beginning of production of lithium-ion batteries, which today are on almost every electric car and allow almost 1000-km travel without recharging.

           
The best-selling electric car in the world TeslaModel 3. 250,000 models were sold in 2018. It is more than the company sold 10 years before. 

In terms of safety of movement, modern transport has advanced. Today, the plane remains the clear winner in the category «the safest transport». The probability of death in a plane crash is about 1 to 8,000,000. With that chance, if a passenger gets on a random flight every day, it would take him/her 21,000 yearsto die.

The trains are on the second place, and the cars are on the third. The death rate in a road accident is 1.6 people per 160 million kilometres travelled (as opposed to 0.9 people by trains). Each year, about 1.2m people die on the world's roads, a thousand times more than in plane crashes. 

   
Boeing 777 was considered the safest aircraft in the world as of 2015 

On average, given the development of transport and transport infrastructure, speed and safety have become the main indicators by which we can judge about the futuristic nature of modern transport. 

A 19th century's resident could not imagine that it would be possible to cross the ocean and get from Moscow to New York in 9 hours, while the journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg took 23 hours 150 years ago.

An environmentally friendly car, a fast train and a safe plane – the only problem of the modern transport is still the lack of versatility. But even for this problem, engineers are trying to come up with an effective solution. 

Transport of the future: faster than a car, safer than a train

The uniqueness of the string transport lies not so much in the advantage of speed, safety and comfort, but in the unique combination of these indicators. Unlike a car, the string transport is above the ground, does not stand in traffic jams and does not get into accidents, but at the same time, allows to speed up to 500 km/h, operating on the electric engine. 

        
A prototype model of the high-speed string transport in the wind tunnel. The aerodynamics of this model is 7 times better than that of modern sports cars capable of speeds up to 400 km/h.

The SkyWay engine can run on any environmentally friendly fuel from natural gas to methane and hydrogen. Unlike trolleybuses and trains, vehicles can be powered by a self-contained source of energy — batteries, capacitor or molecular energy storage devices or fuel cells mounted on board.

      
The anchor support for a lightweight string track at the innovative SkyWay Centre in Sharjah, UAE, with a 250 ton force (approximate weight of 5 tanks

The safety of the string transport movement is provided by a complex of solutions: its being above the ground eliminates collision with other transport, the isolation of road sections helps to stop the transport in case of an accident on one of the supports, the automated control system eliminates the human factor.

      
Unibus U4-210 model of urban transport with a capacity of up to 14 people. In 2018, more than 2000 people rode on such transport. 

At the moment, the string tracks, which are located on the test section in Belarus, allow safe acceleration of vehicles up to 90 km/h, which is already higher than, for example, in buses and trolleybuses.   At the same time, the track, which is currently being built in the Emirate of Sharjah, UAE, will allow to accelerate public transport up to 150 km/h.  

The SkyWay high-speed transport is designed with speeds of up to 500 km/h. These are the numbers of modern high-speed trains, but the tracks are barely on the ground and will cost several times cheaper. 

       
The concept of the SkyWay high-speed transport, which can accelerate up to 500 km/h. The sample was presented at Berlin's Innotrans 2018

From a technical point of view, SkyWay is closest to solving the problems of «transport of the future», because it offers a complete solution: it does not create traffic jams, accelerates to 500 km/h and runs on the electric motor. 

And yet SkyWay is not the transport of the future, because today, it has already been tried by several thousand people. It would be more correct to say that SkyWay embodies the best of what people have imagined in the transport of the 21st century: the streamlined shape, eco-friendly electric motor, high speed and absence of traffic jams. In other words, SkyWay is not the transport of the future, SkyWay is the transport of the present.

Andrew Yakomaskin
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