Olga Kim September 4, 2018

The future of  mobility is going to come in all shapes, sizes and guises. It probably won’t have a driver. It’s likely to be in the air. And it might just be underground…

Imagine racing to the car’s capacity with no traffic jams, no weather concerns, just atmospheric surroundings.

World Rally Championship driver Elfyn Evans has made it a reality, racing at the wheel of the new Ford Fiesta ST in a salt mine 400 meters underground. Dubbed by Ford the “greatest road you never heard of”, the location is kept secret (our guess is Carrickfergus mine in Northern Ireland). It’s definitely not your typical race track. With the sound of the W200PS 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine amplified by 22 million years old salt walls, the result is pretty spectacular.

Could the future of transportation lie in underground driving?

Elon Musk’s The Boring Company is famously building the multi-level 3D tunnel network in Los Angeles set to ease traffic congestion and reduce travelling time. “First of all, you have to be able to integrate the entrance and exit of the tunnel seamlessly into the fabric of the city. So by having an elevator, sort of a car skate, that’s on an elevator, you can integrate the entrance and exits to the tunnel network just by using two parking spaces. And then the car gets on a skate. There’s no speed limit here, so we’re designing this to be able to operate at 200 kilometers an hour”, explained Musk at the TED conference.

People imagined future cities to be filled with flying cars but Musk’s vision for underground network is every bit as exciting as science fiction.

Over in London, design firm Gensler in partnership with Pavegen and Momentum Transport Planning dreamed up with the ‘London Underline’ project envisioning how to repurpose abandoned tube tunnels into subterranean transport network for pedestrians and cyclists. It is a less ambitious concept compared to The Boring Company’s one but it is another example of the “down under” thinking.

Singapore, on the other hand, abandoned plans for the Singapore Underground Road System (SURS) in 2017 as it “shifts towards a car-lite society”, according to the Land Transport Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority. Car sharing and autonomous vehicles are thought to ease traffic on future roads making the subterranean transport system less of a priority, although Elon Musk is convinced that cheap cost of travelling will result in road congestion and the solution is not in the air.

Blue Sky Thinking

A slew of companies dream upwards. Big manufacturers and startups alike work on making the urban air commute a reality despite many technological, regulatory and infrastructure hurdles. Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing Vehicle (EVTOL) is the technology that can make flying cars a reality.

Uber believes that flying people in and around cities is not a matter of ‘if’, it’s a matter of ‘when’. The company partnered with NASA for the air taxi project ‘Elevate’ and the concept video looks like a futuristic movie.  The service is set to pilot in three cities by the 2020.

Another company getting ready for a new era of on-demand air transportation is a German start-up Lilium which developed the world’s first electric vertical take-⁠off and landing jet. Lilium plans to make this service a reality in 2025.

Chinese drone-manufacturer Ehang plans to offer aerial vehicle service at the end of 2018 after unveiling its Ehang 184 EVTOL. With its mission to “provide easy and convenient access to aerial vehicles for anyone at anytime and anywhere”, could it be the first company to “let people fly like a bird”, as envisioned by its founder?

Up or down, urban transportation revolution is imminent. The race is on.

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