Sustainable Energy

The tech that could change the way we travel

Electric Vehicle in Park Charging station in UK Street
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From hydrogen-fueled vehicles to hyperloop transportation and cable cars, a range of technologies and ideas are being developed to shape the future of urban mobility.

Below, CNBC's "Sustainable Energy" looks at how travel around our towns and cities is changing.

Cities of tomorrow 

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For Susan Shaheen, who co-directs the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, the way we travel could look very different over the next few years.

"In the next few decades things are going to change a lot, and that's going to be due to technological advances — things like automated cars, electrification and further advancements in wireless and electronic connectivity," she told CNBC.

This would mean people getting from point A to point B in a much more seamless way, Shaheen added. Travel options will increase, too, including "active" forms of transportation like electric bikes and scooters, with automation also playing a role.


A man touches the rear of a full-scale passenger Hyperloop capsule unveiled by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies on October 2, 2018 in El Puerto de Santa Maria.
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Looking to the future, hyperloop is one radical idea that could dramatically reduce travel times between cities.

Several businesses, including Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Virgin Hyperloop One, are developing a hyperloop system. For its part, Virgin Hyperloop One has received $295 million in funding. Its investors include the Virgin Group, GE Ventures and SNCF.

Hyperloop is a form of transportation that uses magnetic levitation to float vehicles above a track. Electric propulsion accelerates the vehicle through a low-pressure tube, with the vessel capable of gliding for long distances at "airline speed" thanks to "ultra-low aerodynamic drag."

In terms of intercity travel, change could well be afoot. "In 10 to 20 years' time I think we're going to see a lot more high speed rail facilities that will allow people to travel long distances but in shorter periods of time," Shaheen said, adding that hyperloop technology was another potential mode of transport for both urban travel and long distance freight.

Zero-emission travel

Visitors inspect the Coradia iLint, a CO2-emission-free regional train developed by French transport giant Alstom.
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While hyperloop offers a tantalizing glimpse of how travel could develop in the coming years, mass transportation systems like buses and trains will still have a crucial role to play.

Indeed, in the last few years, a number of innovative buses and trains have been introduced to public transport networks around the world.

The Scottish city of Aberdeen, known to many as "the oil capital of Europe," now boasts a fleet of zero-emission hydrogen buses.

In the rail sector, European firm Alstom recently launched what it says is the world's first "hydrogen powered" train.

The French business says that the Coradia iLint uses fuel cells that turn hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. In terms of speed, the train can travel up to 140 kilometers per hour.

Sharing is caring

Bikes for rent at a docking station in Copenhagen, Denmark.
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When it comes to two-wheeled forms of transport, cycle sharing schemes are becoming increasingly popular modes of transport.

The Danish capital of Copenhagen is home to a large number of cycle paths and lanes, with efforts made to construct raised, safe lanes for cyclists to use.

"If you want to create a biking city then you have to make it safe to go by bike," Lord Mayor Frank Jensen told Sustainable Energy earlier this year.

"In Copenhagen, children learn to bike when they start going to school, they bike together with their parents, and when they grow up they continue biking," Jensen added.

Changing times

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For UC Berkeley's Shaheen, cycle-sharing schemes are part of a wider shift in habits.

"We've seen a number of innovations today in the developed world including e-scooters and bike sharing and car sharing and on-demand transit services like Uber and Lyft," she explained.

"We're also seeing a lot more focus on shared, automated vehicles," she added.

While there is excitement surrounding the potential of autonomous vehicles, concerns have been raised with regards to safety. In March 2018, for example, one of ride-hailing powerhouse Uber's self driving vehicles killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.

Shaheen went on to state that in order to encourage a wider uptake of automated vehicles, focus needed to be placed on public safety and the perception of autonomous transport's safety.

"Right now, a lot of members of the public are not convinced they want to get into an automated vehicle," she added. "What would really help is to do a lot more testing on public roads."