The Future of Transportation: Highways, Flyways or Personal Freedom

Aging infrastructure, traffic congestion, and increase in population are creating problems in metropolitan areas. Transit authorities, startups, and established companies have entered a race to bring the next commuting technology to market. As we move into the future, flying cars, Hyperloop, self-driving cars, and drones are adding a new dimension to the future of transportation.

Key issues:

  • Regulatory vs. technology challenges
  • Open source vs. closed
  • Freight first vs. passenger first
  • Single passenger vs. four passengers

Primarily the future of transportation is focused on reducing travel times by over 50%.

The business opportunities are seen in one of the following areas.

  • Building infrastructure
  • Providing accessibility
  • Increasing utilization and efficiency
  • Broadening the scale of the system to transport both goods and people

New Platforms

  • EV Vehicles: Tesla is enabling more renewable source of energy. As JB Straubel, CTO of Tesla, discussed in the class, Tesla envisions to be the world’s first vertically integrated sustainable energy company through power generation using solar power and stored them to run transportation industry. More and more other leading automotive companies are trending to build EV vehicles to capture the market demand.
  • Pneumatic Transport: Hyperloop is becoming the term identical with the most major advances in what we once knew as the train. An eco-friendly powered tube-based pods that can travel at speeds of up to 760mph, and the trips from LA to San Francisco, or London to Edinburgh, will take under 30 minutes. Hyperloop-one has made recent progress on XP-1 and few countries from Europe and Middle East have agreed to evaluate a Hyperloop one link between their one of the busy route cities.
  • Flying Cars: Any flying car which requires a runway strip to take off is a DOA. Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) which drones do have hope but anything with wings flies on the face of congestions. If they take off and land more frequently from mini airports then they are competing with rail systems and subways –which might be cheaper but still do NOT solve the last mile problem. Project Vahana from Airbus attempts to free up urban air mobility through the first certified electric, self-piloted vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) passenger aircraft to use for everyday commute to address heavy traffic issues like highway 101 traffic congestion between Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

On-Demand Transport

  • Lyft, Uber, Scoop: However Lyft and Uber are in the same basket business, Scoop is disrupting every day commute making it easy to carpool to work with your co-workers and neighbors. About 80% of Americans drive alone to work. This is a big problem Scoop is solving now.

Connected Systems

  • Self-driving Cars: The introduction of self-driving, autonomous, and automatic cars will cause a change, but that change is already in effect. Companies like Google, Tesla, Peloton and Uber are already in this race. Survey results indicate that 30% of the United States population is already ready for these cars. Peloton has been able to use “connected“ technology to improve safety and decrease fuel usage, aiming for a three times efficiency improvement rate. According to Luca Delgrossi, Director of Driver Assistance & Chasis Systems NA at Mercedes-Benz R&D North America, cycle productions and new product introductions happen just before the end of the decade. Mercedes has already released autonomous cars, dating back to the 80’s so it is in the DNA of Mercedes to be involved in this movement, in this market. Uber first started allowing riders to take trips in its self-driving cars in Pittsburgh last September now picking up passengers in Arizona as well.

Few emerging startups, established companies, and transit authorities are speeding up a race to solve the problem and define the future of transportation that could move us from highway to flyways. Despite technical and regulatory challenges, opportunities for startups are realizing the new business models and evolving over time.

Several investors including Khosla Ventures are heavily investing in technology to disrupt the $1.7 trillion auto market. Now the question is which technology will take on the market – Hyperloop, pilotless drones, flying cars, autonomous vehicles, or on-demand transport?











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7 comments on “The Future of Transportation: Highways, Flyways or Personal Freedom”

  1. Hey Hira,
    this is a good one. When having all these means and ways available I wonder if regulations will be able to keep a pace. As an example, in Europe and US, there isn’t sufficient full regulation framework on outside flying drones yet.
    What is your take on this?


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    1. Hi Michaela, Definitely regulation is becoming hurdles for these innovation to foster. It’s a part of natural evolution. It should take into a shape over time.

  2. Very insightful post!

    I would like to share some insights in regards to these emerging transportation solutions. One issue that I would like to bring up is the potential friction between traditional industries and new industries during this transition. For example, engine oil, a type of petroleum-based lubricant, is a multi-billion business that can only exist if cars still run on internal combustion engines. However, electric cars do not have combustion engines and therefore do not need to have their engine oil changed every year. While electric cars also need lubrication, the market for these types of lubricant is far less attractive compared to the one for engine oil, because of the fact that these lubricants do not need regular replacements in the lifetime of an electric car.

    Therefore, I would argue that the booming of electric cars is something those engine oil companies fear, and such fear may lead to some if not great resistance against electric cars, let alone that engine oil business is perhaps not the only industry in which interests are at odds with electric cars. Thus, although we have seen some success stories around electric car companies such as Tesla, it still hard to say whether or not EVs will become the dominating type of vehicles on the roads.

    Li Zonglin
    Student at MS&E 238A

  3. Good summary of the current trend in mobility. As for the question of which technology will take on the market, I believe that they will all be on the market in the future, but following a process. First we see ride sharing market growing into maturity, so at the end of the decade we will move on to the next technology which is autonomous cars. We are now seeing production cars reach autonomous level 3 now and by the end of the next decade, fully autonomous cars will hopefully be available to the public. Around the same time, hyperloop will also be going through preliminary public testing, connecting city hubs. As for flying cars, I believe we can see viable prototypes by 2040, since the regulations regarding airspaces are very stringent and can be a major roadblock towards flying cars in metropolitan areas. So from the current market and technological trend, ride-sharing and autonomous cars are leading the way.


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  4. Thank you for your post Hira. My group is doing their project on autonomous vehicles and I think that this article would benefit us all to read. I noticed that when you mentioned the future of transportation in this post you focused on several types: flying, pneumatic and then autonomous. Did you do this specifically because autonomous vehicles will more than likely be an ephemeral phase in our methods of transportation in the future? Also, you mention that the future of transportation looks to reduce traffic congestion, is this more than likely to decrease than increase if say that everyone has an autonomous vehicle and can beckon it to come pick them up at their will? I guess you could argue that Uber, Lyft, Scoop services are doing this but when people have own a more gas efficient vehicle that does not charge them to pick them up, I imagine it would be utilized frequently.

    Thank you again,

    1. Foster, Thanks for your curiosity. Autonomous vehicles would definitely be next big things to support sharing economy. I could imagine one day not needing to buy a car but depend on autonomous car picking me up from home to office or home to Mall. This ecosystem is definitely coming along the way.

  5. Hi Hira, this is a very interesting post.

    I think we see some critical steps forward within EVs these days. Volvo have announced that they intend only to produce full EVs or hybrids from 2019. VW have announced their ambition to totally abandon diesel engines and switch to hybrids, and with the introduction of Tesla’s Model 3 EV’s are no longer something exotic, but something ordinary people can afford and live with. This is a critical point, as the barrier of buying a EV is now no longer exists. This commoditization will accelerate the development exponentially (as JB mentioned).

    In my opinion autonomous cars, on-demand transportation and public transport is the way to go. Audi launched their new A8 that actually have the ability to drive itself completely, not only on highways. This is a $150.000 car, but the technology is here, and will become much cheaper within a few years. If this, in combination with on-demand services will rise the utilization of vehicles much higher (and rise the road safety and decrease environmental footprint!).

    Waze (owned by Google) have launched Waze Pool where actual carpooling take place (not taxi service as Uber and Lyft). They connect people living and working in same areas. At the moment it’s difficult to see Waze’s business model in this (as the only incentive for the driver’s is tax-deduction), but it’s definitely a interesting development. I personally suspect Google to use the data to calculate where to use their Google-cars in the future so they will get the highest utilization


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