Starting with the Czechs. Nearly 3 decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Czech Republic is at the cutting edge of technology like it once was at the time it was the industrial hub of Central Europe. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, an innovative company has signed a memorandum with the Czech government, and is planning to build a super-futuristic high-speed train between Brno and Bratislava. It'll be only 13 km long, but a subsequent expansion will also include Prague (another 220 km away).
In fact, Hyperloop is not exactly a train, but rather a futuristic alternative. It's a technology that would allow to transport capsules inside vacuum tubes at speeds around 1200 kmh. It'll be levitating on a magnetic cushion, have zero friction, and thus allow for a super-efficient transportation with very little energy consumption.
Naturally, Elon Musk is among the most active advocates for this technology. The HTT company that's building the project is one of his main competitors. They've already signed another contract with the Slovak government for a similar connection linking Bratislava with Vienna, plus a possible extension for Budapest.
Then, there's the news that Airbus Group will be testing a new prototype of an autopilot-based flying car by the end of 2017. The project is still at an experimental stage, but the company is already working very actively on it. The code name is Project Vahana, and idea is to create both individual and grouped transport vehicles that wouldn't need a plane track. They'll be based on helicopter technology and will be autopiloted.
The purpose is to allow the people of the future to call air transport through a mobile app, fashioned after the Uber platform. Airbus, the largest producer of commercial helicopters in the world, already has all the technologies needed for creating a functioning prototype of a flying car within the next few months.
If everything goes smoothly, these vehicles should be ready for mass production by 2021. Airbus says the migration towards air transport could eliminate the multi-billion investment in ground infrastructure, and partially tackle the air pollution problem, especially in the super-urbanised megapolises. Work on Project Vahana has begun in 2016, and Airbus have created a special sister company for the purpose, Urban Air Mobility.
But even if the company puts a complete specimen of a flying car on the market, there are still a myriad of outdated regulatory restrictions (mostly related to air travel safety) that could hinder its release for years - so, legislation will have to be adjusted first.
Then, there's Japanese car manufacturer Nissan, starting new tests this month in their work on self-driving commercial cars for the European market. The company has decided to start from London, although as we know the British voters decided that the UK should exit the EU, and this could bring additional regulatory complications in the near future.
During the tests, Nissan will be using a modified version of their electric car Leaf, which will be equipped with sensors (cameras, radars, a laser detector), as well as an AI-based autopilot. Although the cars will be controlled by a computer, there'll always be a driver behind the steering wheel as well. Still, even if everything goes without problems, the company doesn't expect to be able to release the vehicle on the market before 2020. But they're already moving fast in that direction. The good news is, Nissan is planning to release at least 10 new models by the end of the decade, all of them offering at least partial driving autonomy.
Although London is bracing itself for an exodus of financial capitals and companies into a mainland direction due to the Brexit, in the meantime it could hope to become a hub for testing of self-driving vehicles. Apart from Nissan, Volvo is also planning to conduct their tests on a prototype of an autopiloted vehicle by 2018. They'll release 100 of these cars on the British roads next year. Jaguar Land Rover has similar plans too. And last year it transpired that a big new public-private partnership was started in the Greenwich area, its purpose being to develop autopiloted shuttles and integrate them into the public transportation system of the region.
Perhaps we're not too far away from that picture in Star Wars, after all...