Culture / Cars

Secrets of Flying Cars, Hyperloop Tube Travel and Google’s Driverless Fleet Revealed at SXSW

The Future is Coming Faster Than You Think

BY // 03.14.18

AUSTIN — While sitting in traffic has become one of urban America’s, and in particular Austin’s, most annoying inconveniences, it should come as no surprise that one of the resounding themes of this week’s South by Southwest conference is the future of transportation. The news here: Experts across the board acknowledged that a shift in mobility is coming, that the transportation model is changing, moving away from ownership to a whole new world of getting from here to there.

Speaking at the Austin Convention Center, John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo (Google’s self-driving car project that stands for a new “way forward with mobility”) discussed Waymo’s fast-approaching  launch of a driverless ride hailing service. It’s already being tested in Phoenix

And Waymo has already completed thousands of test drives across 4 million miles of terrain and has expanded its tests to other cities to perfect driving in all climates and environments to create in Krafcik’s words “the worlds most experienced driver.” If you have ever had an overly chatty Uber driver, Waymo may be the answer.

Throughout the convention center, all facets of the future of transportation were examined. Steven Duong of AECOM, discussed Texas’ Hyperloop One project. An environmental study recently kicked off to ascertain the viability of the project that would connect the major cities of Texas with high speed tubes that zip passengers along at more than 700 MPH.

Representatives from AECOM tells PaperCity that in five to 10 years, there will be a functioning hyperloop somewhere in the world.

Up in the Air

As urbanization expands so does the congestion crisis in and between cities, and frequently solutions involve the troublesome issue of eminent domain. Therefore, transit innovators are looking above ground as the solution to create mass transit options. Jared Ficklin of Argo Design has a plan for Wire One in Austin, an urban cable mass transit vision that will operate much like a gondola system that would follow along one of the city’s busiest streets for commuting downtown. Similar cable systems are already in place in cities in Bolivia and Germany.

Gaming legend and billionaire Richard Garriatt spoke on his project with USA PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) involving small automated vehicles that ride on overheard guideways sized for a family unit. Garriatt has a study in the works with the University of Texas for a possible test run on the campus to demonstrate how this system could serve as a web of routes to function in places that operate as small civic villages.

While doubters have dismissed Uber’s assertion that it will have flying cars in the air by 2020, the company’s head of Policy, Autonomous Vehicles & Urban Aviation, Justin Erlich reiterated that proclamation in his presentation. He addressed the plan for VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircrafts to go into testing in two years and went further by promising that Uber will be conducting commercial flights with a pilot and passengers across three cities by 2023.

Panel moderator and Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea concluded the conversation by shedding light on some of the issues regarding the jurisdictional hurdle that many of these modern transit projects are facing. Despite getting past the road blocks of technology and economical logistics to make these projects commercially feasible, most of the projects are caught up in policy planning and legislation.

Erlich remarked, “It’s incumbent upon us to have these conversations to help them understand what is possible and what is to come and how to prepare for it both as consumers and policy makers.”

Hopefully, we are only a few traffic jams away from the future.

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