Transports of delight

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Holidays are always something that we look forward to, it’s just a shame they start with a long haul journey. Tanya Weaver contemplates the innovations in travel that will get us to our destinations quicker

I spent Easter visiting my dad in South Africa, Port Alfred to be exact. And although I love being there, it’s the getting there that I don’t much care for.

An hour and a half drive to Heathrow, hanging around in the airport, a twelve hour flight, more airport hanging, a two hour connection flight and then finally a two hour drive to his house.
It’s a slog.

Whoever famously said “focus on the journey, not the destination” obviously doesn’t have family living on the other side of the world. I’d rather hurl myself at lightning speed across seas and continents than dwell on the journey — my cramped quarters, fat ankles, annoying neighbour invading my personal space and aircraft food that doesn’t actually resemble food.

However, at Develop3D Live on 16th April I was sitting in on the sustainability stream and listening to Chris Sherwin, head of sustainability at design consultancy seymourpowell, talk about the ‘Roadmap for sustainable design’.

He spoke about a transportation concept that seymourpowell have designed that challenges our preconceptions about the way we travel.

Aircruise is a 365-metre tall luxurious airship concept powered by hydrogen and solar, and instead of taking a few hours to reach your destination it may take a few days of drifting leisurely alongside the clouds.


As Sherwin pointed out, it’s really about the experience of travel rather than getting from A to B quickly. Sounds nice but I still think I’d rather get to B as quickly as possible.

As a child I remember a poster on the back of my aunt’s toilet door with the words ‘Beam me up, Scotty’. I had no idea what it meant but in my child’s mind I remember sitting there wondering where I would be beamed to if I could be anywhere in the world at that moment.

It was probably Disneyland or Camelot (every girl wants to be a princess). Although the ability to snap our fingers and be teleported into another timezone, is probably still a little way off there are all sorts of transport innovations at the moment that will make travel quicker.

Staying on the ground for the moment, there is the high speed rail link.

The High speed 2 (HS2), which will cost a whopping £32 billion, will provide a high speed rail line between London and Birmingham and on to Manchester and Leeds. But there has been backlash from many quarters, including residents in local villages who’d prefer not to have the line slice through their countryside.

But I’m all for it. Want to get to London in less than an hour? Yes please. But with completion only due in 2026, I won’t get too excited just yet.

As for cars – is there really any point in designing them to go faster? My husband recently bought himself a VW Sirocco (good riddance Daddy Wagon) and kept boasting how it can do 0 to 60 mph in however many seconds.

What’s the point? It’s not like he will be getting anywhere faster. Our little island is jam packed as it is. Most commuters encounter at least one traffic jam a day.

So, it’s really air travel where the innovation lies in terms of speed. But it seems pretty busy up there too. I’m sure a fair few have experienced the ‘traffi c jam’ at Heathrow – like you are in a giant tornado with all the planes following each other as they slowly wind down in a queue to the runway below (well, that is how I imagine it in my head).

Nevertheless, we have some bright sparks one of which is Reaction Engines in Oxfordshire who have been hard at work on a new engine called SABRE.

This air-breathing rocket engine, which utilises both jet turbine and rocket technology, will enable aircraft to reach the opposite side of the world in under four hours. The company’s founder, Alan Bond, is rather enthusiastic about it and states,

“The SABRE engine has the potential to revolutionise our lives in the 21st century in the way the jet engine did in the 20th Century.”

Meanwhile our French neighbours are also working on getting us around the world quicker. EADS has unveiled a concept for a 3,000 mph hypersonic passenger jet that could get passengers from London to Tokyo in less than two and a half hours. ZEHST (Zero Emission High Speed Technology) looks like the Concorde but is much cleaner and will fly above the Earth’s atmosphere.

But both these transport solutions are still a way off . SABRE is just an engine with no aircraft to go in at the moment and ZEHST will only have an operational vehicle ready by 2050.

So, I guess that I won’t be getting to South Africa quicker anytime soon. But perhaps what would make the journey better is if the experience of travelling was more relaxing and enjoyable.

This is exactly an area that London design consultancy Priestmangoode is looking at in a number of its transport projects. The aim is to enhance the user experience by making the environment less like an airline environment and more like an extension for the home.

A recent example is its cabin re-design for Brazil’s national air carrier TAM Airlines. For this concept the consultancy aimed to essentially design a ‘home away from home’ by making it the most comfortable cabin in the sky.

However, all of this comes as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo completes its first rocket-powered flight above the Mojave Desert in California.

So perhaps I should set my sights on an intergalactic holiday instead — at least I’ll get there quick. Now I just need to find £130,000 for the ticket.

Tanya Weaver looks at the possibilities of future travel

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