2016 in transport: Rocket misery, EV traction, and supercomputers

This year has changed the transport space with research movers, company shakers, and more than one high-profile failure.


Transport underpins and supports both urban and rural living worldwide.

Whether this is just a runaround to get from A to B, a flight to get to a conference or distribution networks for parcels and supplies, companies and the general public require a strong transport infrastructure for cities and businesses to thrive.


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However, as transport is so ingrained, new and innovative solutions are required to lessen the strain of traditional fossil fuel use on our environment, reduce congestion in cities, and keep businesses moving.

It is not just land-based vehicles, however, which are being scrutinized -- but how we can use airspace more effectively and potentially even create new revenue streams through Mars settlements and space tourism.

Over 2016, vendors have made headway in different aspects of tourism, with renewable energy and smart city living coming in as major trends.

Self-driving cars, for example, have been explored by the likes of Google, Ford, Volvo, Tesla, and many other companies besides. Ford said earlier this year that self-driving cars -- which do not need human interaction rather than connected cars which act only as driver assistance systems -- are "five years away" from changing our roads forever and plans to test up to 30 new prototypes on roads in Arizona, California, and Michigan as part of the Ford Fusion Hybrid test vehicle project.

Meanwhile, Hyundai announced plans to open a new data center in Guizhou, China, next year which will support connected cars. And China is also looking to test car-straddling buses which will move over cars in an effort to reduce congestion and pollution in major cities.

While there has been no official confirmation of Apple's interest in the self-driving industry for years, the iPad and iPhone maker has recently called upon US regulators to not place too many limits on the industry in the years to come.

Over in Australia, Transburban revealed plans to start trialing autonomous vehicles on state roads in Victoria next year, Queensland followed suit in the southeast, and the UK's Milton Keynes was chosen as the testbed for Oxbotica's two-seater driverless electric vehicles.

See also: Top self-driving car firms join forces to deliver fully autonomous system by 2019

We have watched Google's attempts at developing self-driving cars for years now, and in 2016, the tech giant spun off the former Google X unit as a separate company called Waymo.

The company, which stands for "a new way forward in mobility," is testing 60 vehicles on city streets in the US and has recently partnered with Chrysler to develop a fleet of self-driving minivans.

(It's not all about cars, however, as MIT has proven by developing a self-driving scooter.)

No self-driving car can operate without a strong, powerful processing center. Over the course of this year, a number of researchers have begun to tackle implementing "supercomputer" brains into our transport systems.

Notably, IBM and BMW teamed up this year to explore cognitive computing in cars, and Nvidia revealed Xavier, a new system-on-a-chip (SoC) which will power future connected vehicles.

Self-driving and autonomous vehicles have caught the imagination of engineers and technology enthusiasts worldwide, but such vehicles becoming an everyday product will not happen for many years to come -- and in the meantime, we have to look at ways to lessen our reliance on ever-dwindling fossil fuel supplies.

Tesla enjoyed record sales in 2016 of the firm's electric vehicle product range including the Model S and Model X, despite serious issues with the Autopilot driver-assistance system which has been involved in a number of crashes over the past year -- to the point in which German authorities have told Tesla to stop advertising this "misleading" feature.

See also: Renault-Nissan CEO: We will give you an electric vehicle for $8000

Despite a tumultuous year, Tesla is still going ahead with new self-driving hardware that the company says will ensure vehicles can "drive better than a human."

Drones have dominated airspace transport this year with new designs coming out for both personal and business use. While MIT is busy at work creating a platform for businesses to design their own aerial vehicles, DroneDeploy has launched an app store dedicated to drone software and Amazon Prime Air made its first drop in the United Kingdom.

In the UK, government officials have asked regulators to consider prisons a no-fly zone for drones to prevent contraband being delivered across prison walls.

Originally proposed by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, the futuristic city transport Hyperloop, a transport system based on propulsion and vacuums, was renamed Hyperloop One and received a cash injection of $80 million this year after debuting with a public demo.

The project, which could revolutionize travel especially for longer trips, has also claimed the interest of Russia which has tapped the new company for a domestic transport project which could cost as much as $13 billion to implement.

Finally, there are developments from SpaceX which are worth keeping an eye on over the next year. In 2016, the space transport startup, co-owned by Elon Musk, announced plans to colonize Mars in the next decade, which may be considered a very ambitious timeframe.

Before we get there, however, we need a stable and safe way to reach the red planet, and the development of rockets capable of making the journey is no easy task.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket tests did not go as planned due to a failed strut system, with suspicious eyes turning towards competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA), that remain fierce competitors for US rocket contracts.

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