We don’t have to look too hard to notice transportation technology’s presence, since it’s helping with COVID-19. It also interconnecting societies across the globe for centuries, bringing about the pros of globalization. But those are modern examples and don’t shine the light on the fact it’s one of our earliest and most significant technologies. That’s why our ancient technology vs. modern technology article exists in the first place. Obviously, it has progressed immensely, and its effects became numerous and far-reaching. So, we’ve condensed them into key aspects of transportation technology.
What is transportation technology?
Transportation technology refers to the technological improvements, tools or techniques, for moving humans, animals, and goods from one place to another, using one or more types of infrastructure and transport. Transportation technology can apply to all modes of transport (air, land, water, pipeline, space, cable), which consist of transport infrastructure, vehicles, and operations.
Examples of transportation technology
Here are some notable products of transportation technology:
Micro mobile vehicles
In modern times, hoverboards, diesel or electric motor-powered bicycles, motor scooters, and motorcycles represent micro-mobile transportation technologies. Chinese researchers also developed an autonomous bicycle in 2019 that maintains balance and avoids obstacles while responding to voice commands and can carry cargo on platforms.
These are common types of land vehicles and some of their features:
Steam to diesel to electric engines
Cars were the first type of ground vessel to move from steam to diesel engines, back in the 1930s. They’re based on the internal combustion engine that uses petrol (gasoline) or gas (natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas) as fuel to power the vehicle. In the early 2020s, a rapid switch from diesel to electric motors began. They use a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery and come with a plethora of smart features we or AI (Artificial Intelligence) can control via software or firmware. Furthermore, electric cars are gas emission-free, provide powerful torque, and much more responsive and power-efficient.
Hydrogen-powered engines and fuel economy
Hydrogen-powered cars are another alternative to diesel engines, but they must convert chemical energy to mechanical energy to work. Additionally, they require 3 times the power per mile driven than electric cars. What’s more, they emit lots of carbon dioxide while extracting hydrogen from natural gas. On the other hand, technological advancements in 3D printing and manufacturing seek to exchange steel and iron in automobiles with lightweight options: carbon fibers and magnesium-aluminum alloys. According to studies, a weight reduction of 10% results in fuel economy improvements of over 6%.
Helicopters are pivotal for emergency use in the military, medicine, tourism, meteorology, and newscasting. They use one or more main rotors that spin horizontally to provide lift and thrust, allowing them to hover or fly backward, forward, or laterally. Drones are essentially quad rotorcrafts that vary in size. Military ones are larger, controllable from vast distances, and fly higher than airplanes. Commercial drones are significantly smaller but also pilotless, and can be controlled remotely. Aircraft, on the other hand, use jet engines to provide static lift and gain support from the air. They can carry cargo or personnel for military or civil use, but can also fly unmanned for experimental or model use.
Rail transport was initially dominated by steam-powered engines, then moved to diesel engines in the early 20th century, and finally to overhead electric wires or batteries. Additionally, cables or chains can pull rail vehicles, while gas turbines and pneumatics can power them. Modern technological advancements have also introduced:
- Maglev train uses magnetic levitation to travel by levitating above the track with the use of 2 magnets. Because there’s no friction, such trains can reach speeds of 270 mph-370 mph.
- Hyperloop transport linear induction or electric propulsion to glide the passenger or freight compartment along the pneumatic tube. The proposed maximum speed is 750 mph, but demonstrations only reached half of that.
Watercraft use buoyancy to traverse bodies of water: canals, rivers, lakes, seas, or oceans. Ships were one of the first applications of steam engines for transport, back in the 1800s. Moreover, both ships and submarines were the early adopters of diesel engines, since the 1910s. Besides carrying people, animals, or cargo (non-perishable goods), watercraft can also have different power sources. They can use bunker fuel, nuclear power, wind power, or even large pusher fans, like in the case of hovercrafts.
Until recently, we solely utilized pipeline transport technology to carry liquids or gas over long distances. However, with the introduction of “loop” underground tunneling systems by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company, a variation of public or private pipeline transport can be used to also support the movement of humans and animals.
Spacecrafts carry animals, humans, and goods to or through outer space. Examples of manned spacecraft include those used during the United States’ Apollo program (1961-1972) and the Space Shuttle program (1977-2011). Technology for transportation was also responsible for sending the artificial satellite, International Space Station, into orbit in 1998. Unmanned examples are various space probes, telescopes, and satellites, which can be semi or fully autonomous. Transpiration technology is also utilized for spacecraft launch control from Earth via propulsion, motion in orbit with or without propulsion, and landing on the impact on a lunar or planetary surface.
Application of transportation technology
These are some areas we can apply transportation technology to:
Reduction in traffic accidents and fatalities
This is achieved by using autonomous vehicles with Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). These systems consist of sensors, cameras, GPS, dynamic route planning (DRP), and other wireless technologies to navigate traffic around them. We discussed this when we analyzed how technology keeps us safe. Additionally, by using AI and machine learning, we can train vehicles using datasets from past traffic accidents.
Storage space optimization/inventory reduction
We talked about this when noticed technology is replacing jobs. Automated warehouses will use robots to accept incoming stock and catalogize, then organize, tag, pack, move, and prepare for shipping. Robots can also hone the storage system and always operate at peak performance. And because there are no human employees, bottlenecks, overcrowding, or slow-downs, inventory is always at optimal levels.
We already discussed ways technology can help save the environment, and transportation has a huge impact. The primary goal is to reduce fossil fuel usage by switching to sustainable technologies, some of which we’ve mentioned above. Even airplanes are getting a makeover – Airbus announced zero-emission concept commercial aircraft, ZEROe, which can enter service as early as 2035.