Life occasionally imitates art. Specifically, technological innovation often follows on the heels of science fiction. iPads, food replacement products, and video conferencing were all in science fiction before they became science fact. Sci-fi authors often speculate upon the future of transportation. Here are some of the most famous transportation concepts used in science fiction and some indication of the likelihood of their actual future use.
The idea of a metropolis in which citizens are transported using moving conveyor sidewalks was a popular one in the middle of the 20th Century when concepts of socially driven travel and the interactions between the city and its citizens were being explored by authors and academics alike. Robert A Heinlein wrote one of the most famous depictions of conveyor travel in his short story ‘The Roads Must Roll’. The story details a strike by workers who maintain the complex series of moving conveyors that keep a future civilization working. The classic film Metropolis also has several scenes depicting moving walkways. Today, conveyor systems are used for some limited travel, but most – like those sold by fluentconveyors.com – are produced for the movement of goods in manufacturing or recycling operations.
Science fiction writers have long sought to figure out a way to get characters across interstellar distances in a fashion that seems vaguely plausible. The concept of hyperspace is where a starship enters a parallel dimension in order to travel faster than the speed of light. Hyperspace travel is unfortunately thought to be impossible: at least according to Albert Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity. This has not stopped everybody, from George Lucas to Arthur C Clarke, from using hyperspace as the basis of their stories. Hyperspace is also sometimes used as a plot device hinting at the incompatibility of human beings with concepts or places beyond their understanding.
Pneumatic tubes were featured as a transportation method in the Matt Groening television show Futurama. This futuristic mode of travel was clearly meant to be a parodical depiction of the transportation fantasies of other writers. Pneumatic tubes are still used to move samples around some hospitals, but they would be deadly to humans. Interestingly, there have been some efforts to create trains that are powered pneumatically, although these projects have not been especially successful.
In legendary science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke’s 1979 book Fountains Of Paradise, earth is connected to a station outside of the atmosphere by means of a tensile ‘space elevator’. This idea might seem absurd, but it is theoretically possible. The concept was first proposed by Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (perhaps best known for his theories on extraterrestrial life) in 1895. Roughly speaking, the concept behind the space elevator is that the earth’s gravitational force and the earth’s centrifugal force could be used to counteract one another under the right conditions: holding a tensile tower or wire in place. Several real-life attempts to bring this idea into reality have been started, but none have so far resulted in an actual working prototype.