10 Futurist Predictions in the World of Transportation


If we had the ability to disappear in one place and reappear somewhere else, this entire list would be for naught. Sure, there would be practical limitations (by comparison, a jetpack would probably seem cost effective) but just imagine what could be done.

Now, reel your imagination back in just a bit, and think about fantasy and science fiction. Even Harry Potter and his friends usually chose more traditional methods of travel, because teleporting took a little bit of effort. A wizard needed a specially equipped fireplace and magic powder to teleport via machine. Objects could be bewitched to serve as a temporary teleportation device, but it required a lot of advance planning for just one trip. And only licensed adults were allowed to simply disappear and reappear in a different place (which they called apparition). Did you ever wonder why, despite flying cars and flying brooms and flying dragons and apparition, the kids still spent a full day on a train to get to school?

So, oddly, the fantasy world does illustrate some of the practical problems. In the real world, though, science gets involved, and science has even more restrictive real-world limits. A team of Chinese physicists made the news in spring of 2012 for a huge advancement in teleportation technology. And the accomplishment? Transporting a photon (a particle of light) 60 miles (96.6 kilometers). The previous record for photon teleportation, set in 2010, was 10 miles (16.1 kilometers).

The photon teleporter works by harnessing the energy of a laser beam to get from point A to point B. But, here's the key: The photon is duplicated at point A, and it's a mirror image of the photon, not the actual original photon, received at point B. It was discovered in 1993 by a team of IBM researchers that it was only possible to transmit a duplicate of an object if the original object was destroyed, which obviously makes it unethical to research on anything alive. To replicate this ability on a human subject, the brave soul would be analyzed by the teleporter at the point of departure. They'd be scanned, and every single molecule of the person would be sent at the speed of light to another machine at the point of arrival. If anything went wrong, anything at all, there'd be severe consequences for the traveler. After all, they'd be stuck with their new, reassembled form -- the original would be gone for good.

In short, these scientists are talking about using this device to quickly and securely transmit coded, classified data for government operations. We can duplicate photons that contain coded data, but we can't accomplish that feat with anything solid. We're nowhere near the technology necessary to teleport humans. We aren't even close to teleporting a Wonka bar.

In other words, start saving up for your jetpack... or just enjoy your six-speed sports car while you still can.

Author's Note: 10 Futurist Predictions in the World of Transportation

After a few years as a freelance auto journalist, I became a little wary of "futuristic" promises and predictions (and based on the blogs and glossies' output, not much has improved.). Everything was revolutionary. It was easy to lose perspective.

My initial research yielded a stockpile of photos of monorail-esque designs, and I had another flashback: A post-college trip to Walt Disney World with an old friend. (Clearly, this was before I suffered the aforementioned disillusionment.) And that was when I discovered the glory of the PeopleMover. There was no line, so we ambled aboard and rested while we drank coffee and enjoyed the park scenery.

My friend filled me in on the PeopleMover's past life as the "Tomorrowland Transit Authority," which I found a bit baffling: even primitive monorail designs seemed more efficient and useful. Even considering Disney's tendency to take itself way too seriously, how could this amusement park ride have any serious potential as a method of mass transit? But, I soon learned, and as you know by now, there is another PeopleMover in Detroit, where again, it serves no greater purpose than amusing tourists.

At least I can look at the PeopleMover and be glad I've got Chicago's El tracks instead. Now if only I could commute to work on something like the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Get on that, Disney.

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