Overview

In the picture below you see the overview drawing of a conceptualization of the future of (road) transportation. Of course, this is just an idealized thought of the future. Overall, I believe this idea could work. Nevertheless, it might face some challenges I haven’t seen yet, so comment or send me a message if you have some thoughts/questions. Over the next paragraphs, I will dive into each section and write my thoughts on it.

The network of pods

In my opinion, driving in cars is way too much individualized. Travelling by train is much cheaper and more sustainable, but has the downside that you won’t be delivered to your house directly (without transiting), and that you can’t leave at your desired moment. This idea of future transportation combines the best of both worlds.

Flexibly coupled pods
If you are driving on the highway, many people are driving in the same direction. If you would be able to attach (couple) to these other vehicles (pods), you would have many advantages. The first advantage is saving fuel. By coupling to other vehicles you have less air resistance and the power could be redistributed across the coupled vehicles. The second advantage is comfort. By coupling, you don’t (all) need to look at the road and search and steer towards your destination as the multi-pod (a couple of pods coupled together) can do this as one unit. You can do whatever you want in your pod and relax. Lastly, coupled pods avoid accidents and reduce traffic jams, since they are attached to each other and can change shape. But this will be discussed in a later paragraph.

Pods flexibly connect to each other with an AI that calculates the best pods to connect to, while each pod is equipped with IoT(-like solutions). The AI calculates the best pod connections based on the destination (navigation) from each pod, and possibly some other user preferences (like desired speed-range/max nr of pods/or specific pods). In the beginning and at the end of the journey, most pods will probably travel alone, and coupling will be most relevant mid-journey (on the larger roads).

The pods

The pods will have an initial spherical shape. It’s basically one big ball rolling across the floor with minimal resistance, being able to move in all directions instantly. And of fairly lightweight. In the centre of the pod, there is a stabilized cabin where people can sit and enjoy watching a movie, playing a game or doing whatever. I wondered whether a stabilized cabin in a ball is possible, and this wonderful little Sphero toy showed it was.

A flexible skin. As shown in the first picture, you can see that the pods can also change shape from spherical to more egg-like. The spherical shape has the least resistance on the road, but the egg shape has a smaller circumference and more traction. The change of shape gets relevant with heavy traffic. In busy traffic, the pods can couple and gather in egg shapes to effectively pass the road and get quicker to their destination by taking up less space. The changeable shape also brings solutions in heavy weather. If it’s slippery, the egg shape will offer more traction and will avoid crashes.

The outer skin/window is (digitally) changeable from translucent to coloured, so people could also watch the world outside or have a nice colour but private atmosphere. Since people do like i little bit of uniqueness, and it’s sometimes useful to recognize pods, users can change the colour of the skin, potentially giving them nice patterns or texts on them. And yes, I do realize they might look a little bit like big eastern eggs going swiftly through traffic.

The couplers

The couplers are placed at all the sides of the pods. The couplers are movable and cause the skin to change. The couplers have multiple functions. First, they function as connectors with other pods, exchanging power and information between them. But secondly, they also function as a safety mechanism, absorbing a potential impact from the outside world. What is important to notice, is that the couplers don’t touch the skin (since the skin rolls around), so this also means that the connection between pods must go wireless.

The 3D future of the future

Roads are currently quite 2 dimensional. With more and more traffic, it is an inefficient way to transfer people across the world on a flat surface. Since pods are spherical one could also think of developing pods (2.0) that are being stacked upon each other. This firstly requires quite some AI coordination to make the 3D rolling efficient across the pods. But secondly, also requires different roads since the pods shouldn’t fall off the road. Then, we would get kind of tubes that are shaped, and shape the pods. In this phase, we could also think of an adaptive road that changes shape and size based on the demand of traffic. This would offer the pods traction to move forward. One step further, we could think of vacuum roads that change pressure based on traffic and could suction the pods across it at very high speeds.

Challenges

The first challenge is the implementation/adoption of this idea. It would work most efficient if everyone owns a pod. And probably most people would only buy one if everyone has one. So this needs a good marketing campaign/selling plan. However, coupling functionalities could also be installed with electrical cars which could be a smooth transition to fully functioning pods.

A challenge that emerges in development is the multi-functionality of the skin. It serves as a tire, as a window, it should be flexible, and it should be a door (in some places). The development of this material(s) could be difficult. A second challenge is probably the rolling mechanism of the pod itself. I’m not really sure how to do this efficiently yet.

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