Four Ways Traditional Vehicles Could Transform in the Future—Even Elevators | Kanebridge News
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Four Ways Traditional Vehicles Could Transform in the Future—Even Elevators

Researchers, professors and executives forecast changes and innovations coming for some traditional conveyances

Wed, Nov 9, 2022 8:54amGrey Clock 4 min

As transportation industries look to reduce carbon emissions and keep up with changing regulations, the vehicles and vessels that carry people and products will evolve in the coming decades. Here are four trends experts in their fields see coming.

Elevators That Turn Left

Despite their name, there’s no rule that says elevators can only go up and down. Lee Gray, a professor of architectural history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, says elevators that also move horizontally have been part of the vertical transportation dream for more than 100 years. It hasn’t become a reality, he says, largely because of the immense costs associated with it.

But companies are moving in this direction. The German company TK Elevator, for example, has designed an elevator that moves vertically and horizontally called Multi—though it hasn’t yet been put into public operation. Dr. Gray believes multidirectional elevators will be a part of the future, deployed in a variety of ways.

If more people live in urban high-rises, multidirectional elevators could be incorporated into tall buildings and integrated with large transportation systems, such as subways, built beneath them, says Dr. Gray. They could also be used in cities like Las Vegas, where a lot of people in, say, a hotel are trying to get to a convention center across the street.

Climate change could inspire the use of multidirectional elevators to help people avoid the heat, much like cities such as Minneapolis currently have heated skyways to help people avoid the cold, Dr. Gray says. “Maybe I really don’t want to go outside,” he says. “Maybe I’ll be happy to be zooming along in my little air-conditioned elevator car.”

Truly Remote Car Charging

Charging an electric car is a lot like charging a cellphone in the 2000s: If you use it at all, you’ve got to charge it a lot. Solutions in the works include dedicated lanes that wirelessly charge cars as they drive down the road, with a pilot program launching next year in Detroit.

Dedicated lanes aren’t the best long-term solution, says Dennis Hong, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and founding director of the Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory at University of California, Los Angeles. “We want to try to avoid rigid infrastructure, things that you can’t really modify that easily,” he says.

Dr. Hong says an alternative could be car charging delivered via radio waves. The technology exists, he says, but is being used only in laboratory settings, not commercially.

Such a method would need to overcome some significant safety challenges, notes Michael Kintner-Meyer, a research engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state. Sending that amount of energy through radio waves would be similar to pointing a radar at a car, he says, except “any living creature passing through it will be basically fried.”

Tugboat Drones

Even tugboats are being challenged to go emissions-free. These traditional helper-vessels could also go people-free, some in the industry believe.

Having crews on board comes with inefficiencies: People need bathrooms, beds, clean laundry, and they have a lot of downtime. Companies are developing technology for electric tugboats to sail without crew onboard—running autonomously when appropriate and controlled remotely by a human as needed.

Between going electric and not needing a crew, the look of a tug is going to change. Since it will no longer need a place for the crew to sleep and a high perch for the captain, the tugs of the future could be smaller and flatter. “What I envision looking at the harbor one day is you’re going to see more vessels with a very low profile,” said Jerry Silla, director of fleet engineering at Foss Maritime, a Seattle-based tug operator. “You won’t see these big superstructures, you’re not going to see vessels that are manned by crew.”

One of the biggest challenges for a crew-free tugboat? Figuring out how to transfer the tow rope from the tug to the vessel it is assisting, says Oskar Levander, senior vice president of business concepts at Norway’s Kongsberg Maritime. Today, crew members on the ship and the tug exchange a rope. But what to do when no one’s on the tug? Mr. Levander says potential solutions include big mechanical arms that come off the side of the tug, magnets, and even drone-delivered rope.

The Little, Local Airport

The U.S. has roughly 5,000 public airports, heliports, and seaplane bases, and upward of 14,000 for private use. But most travelers fly between only a few of the big ones. That is going to change, predicts Gregory Davis, CEO of Eviation, which is developing an electric plane.

Mr. Davis contends that electric planes will be cheaper to operate than those powered by jet fuel. They’re also going to be smaller. His company’s Alice prototype—which made its first flight in September—holds nine passengers and two crew members. The emergence of electric planes will eventually open up the nation’s regional and local airports to more commercial flights, he predicts, allowing travelers to avoid larger airports.

“We have a major potential to expand point-to-point air travel, which is also the most cost-effective and cleanest way of getting specifically from where you [are] to where you want to go,” he said. “You’re going to have much more choice and much easier access to air travel in 2050.”

Eviation plans to begin delivering aircraft in 2027. But before electric airplanes begin carrying commercial passengers between regional airports, there’s work to be done beyond the design of the planes, Mr. Davis says—from dealing with regulatory hurdles to building out a charging network at airports.


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At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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