Air taxis, Hyperloop, self-driving cars: What your commute could look like in 2030
Picture yourself shooting across the country in a levitating pod or hovering above traffic in a drone.
Imagine a time when daily commutes times are cut in half, or when you don't have to own or operate a car at all to get to your destination.
Those types of transportation options are projected to be available by the year 2030 thanks to improvements in electric battery power, internet connectivity and next-level automation.
"Transportation planning has always been around how to get a vehicle from place to place using roads and traffic lights. But that's changing," said Thom Rickert, a risk and insurance specialist at Trident Public Risk Solutions.
The mobility industry's next objective is to focus on moving a person through multiple modes of connected travel.
That's where air taxis, e-scooters, connected trains and semiautonomous cars come into play, powered by widespread 5G connectivity, Rickert said.
In the coming years, rural pockets of the central U.S. could become better connected to big cities like Atlanta and Dallas in a effort to reduce overall travel times.
Hyperloop is a transportation method that aims to eliminate the barriers of distance and time over the next few years if regulation and test run estimates go according to plan.
The American company is building out a series of "passenger capsules" that can zip through tubes while carrying up to 40 people at a time.
Imagine standing in a futuristic pod that floats inside a vacuum as gradual electric propulsion shoots the vessel to its destination, hundreds of miles away, in mere minutes. Think of it as a mix between a bullet train and an autonomous vehicle inside a long tube.
“You’re going to see a huge boom from the middle of the country if Hyperloop takes off in those places,” said Ryan Kelly, head of marketing and communications at Hyperloop. The company is building pilot tubes in Dubai and working with states in the U.S. to get the project off the ground.
“The first thing you’ll see is safety certification by 2024,” Kelly said. Then 6-mile tracks will be built throughout parts of middle America.
In an age when people want to connect to transportation in lightning speed, traffic congestion, population growth and an expanding job market have led to an increase in commute times across the country's metro areas, transportation authorities say.
Average commute times across the country edged up from 25 minutes in 2009 to over 27 minutes in 2019, according to the Census Bureau. But in metro areas, the average one-way commute can be as long as 43 minutes, according to a study by Best Mattress Brand, a company that researches the causes of sleep issues that affect driving abilities.
Big cities tend to have more people and greater congestion traffic.
Shorter distance or “last-mile” travel will be revolutionized through the widespread adoption of 5G connectivity which will allow machines to communicate with each other directly, enabling more cars and other means of transportation to travel at faster speeds without humans operating them.
Current wireless networks, for example, haven't been strong enough to send reliable signals to aircraft throughout a flight, according to Laurie Garrow, associate director for the Center for Urban and Regional Air Mobility at Georgia Tech.
Toward the end of the decade, “5G connectivity will allow us to design air taxis and give us the ability to think about truly moving toward autonomous control of aircraft,” Garrow said.
She projects electric take-off and landing aircraft displacing some of the helicopters in operation today. "And we will see new markets open up with these aircraft," Garrow said.
Though hurdles like safety regulations, noise concerns and infrastructure needs could prolong projected launch dates, Uber and Hyundai plan on lifting air taxis into the skies in the next few years.
Other electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle companies have similar plans.
As engineering costs fall and battery power continues to improve, the electric vehicles market will continue to grow, though EVs aren't expected to overtake gas-powered cars anytime soon, according to Joe Wiesenfelder, the executive editor at Cars.com.
"Overall (EV) use in the country will continue to lag due to consistently low gas prices, lack of public infrastructure, the recent EPA/California ruling and pending trade wars," Wiesenfelder said in a statement.
In 2019, EVs represented about 1% of the cars on the road in the U.S. Auto industry analyst Eric Lyman told USA TODAY he projects EVs could make up 5% of car sales by 2025.
As EVs gain traction, an increase in transportation alternatives like air taxis could lead to a gradual decline in car ownership within the next five years, Rickert said.
"As all these different solutions are tested, perfected, adjusted and evolved, there will be less of a dependence on an automobile" and less traffic on the ground, Rickert, an insurance specialist, said. "Especially in urban areas."
Everyday vehicles that are capable of receiving over-the-air updates from automakers will become ubiquitous as drivers want their cars to be just as updatable as smartphones.
"You don't want to hear that your vehicle that lasts an average 11 years is out of date," Wiesenfelder said.
Much like smartphones, older connected cars can get some of the same features as new cars thanks to regular airwave updates. Tesla kickstarted the trend and OTA updates have begun to spread throughout the auto industry as companies like Ford, BMW and GM roll out updatable vehicle platforms.
Experts say self-driving features will reach an inflection point over the next several years, though vehicles aren't expected to be able to do all the driving.
"More and more vehicles will have standard equipment with basic automation like lane-keeping assist, automated braking and left-hand turn assistance," Rickert said. "Those things that can detect blind spots and tell one vehicle whether another is about to turn, will reduce more accidents."
However, Level 5 autonomy, where a vehicle can go anyplace at anytime without intervention by a human, isn't expected to be widely available until after 2030.
"I do see those types of vehicles being used in geo-gated areas where they can be more controlled," Rickert said. "Whereas wider deployment on interstate highways, it's going to take a while to get there."
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.