Stuff Innovators 2014: Travel

From hover bikes to space ships, these pioneers are getting us from A to B – and broadening our horizons
Stuff Innovators 2014: Travel

Travel broadens the mind, they say – and these innovators are blowing our noodle with new ways of getting from A to B.

They're realising childhood dreams of space travel and hover bikes, changing the way we get navigate our cities, and even saving the planet with eco-vehicles that'll go to the ends of the Earth on a teaspoon of fuel.

READ MORE: Stuff Innovators 2014 - Superheroes of Tech

Plotting to colonise the red planet

Elon Musk, PayPal/Tesla/Space X

Elon Musk, PayPal/Tesla/Space X

Elon Musk is about as close to a real-life Tony Stark as we have. He’s a Willy Wonka of tech, concocting plans (probably from a volcano lair in the Pacific) before unleashing them on the public.

But rather than sending overweight German children up industrial pipes he’s mainly sending stuff into space. Musk sold his first product at 12 years old – he got US$500 for a videogame he’d written called Blastar after teaching himself to code – but it was the sale of PayPal in 2002 that put him on Stuff’s map. Since then he’s reinvented the electric car, banishing associations with milk floats and the G-Wiz courtesy of Tesla’s Roadster and seven-seater Model S, and set up SpaceX – a private space exploration company that aims to one day colonise Mars. “I see us going to Mars in about 10-11 years,” he told Stuff earlier this year, “and in a really big spaceship, not a little thing.”

Musk compares that proposed first trip to the red planet to the English colonising America and envisions setting up a city home to millions of people, with homes, jobs and (probably) pet Martians. You know, just in case we accidentally destroy Earth. In short, he’s a man with ambitions to match the size of his fortune.

If he sounds like the twin brother of a Bond villain, that’s not a million miles from the truth. Musk recently spent some of his immense wealth on the actual submarine Lotus Esprit used in The Spy Who Loved Me and is building his own: “We’ve even joked about having a submarine-plane-car.” That’s a joke we can’t wait to see the punchline for.

READ MORE: Stuff Innovators 2014 - Design

App-ing to make getting lost get lost

Citymapper

Azmat Yusuf, Citymapper

It’s almost impossible to get lost these days. You’ve got one man to thank for that: Azmat Yusuf. He’s the man behind Citymapper – the app that gets you around London, New York, Paris and other less fashionable cities across the world. It makes the most of open, real-time data to show you various routes to your destination, how long each one will take, how much they’ll cost and if there are any problems that could cause delays.

Creator Yusuf and his team are adding cities all the time – you can vote for which one they should do next on the Citymapper website – and he’s already got one eye on Rio in time for the Olympics in 2016. Yusuf told Stuff that he wanted “to build something that people would use regularly”. Considering we can barely get to the end of the road without using his app, looks like mission accomplished.

READ MORE: Stuff Innovators 2014 - Watch, Listen, Play

Making our sci-fi dreams come true

Mark DeRoche, Aerofex

Mark DeRoche, Aerofex

Now we have plug sockets with USB ports in them, there are only really two main sci-fi dreams that remain: flying cars and hoverboards. Aerofex’s Aero-X fulfils both, with the added bonus of being a little like Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder. On terra firma it’s a four-wheeled, two-person buggy-type vehicle, but in flight it uses downward-facing fans to levitate up to 10 feet off the ground at up to 45mph.

Designed by aerospace engineer Mark DeRoche, it uses a clever steering system that removes the need for complex controls like those found in helicopters, making it similar to riding a motorbike. And while it’s not ready to ride away from a showroom just yet, it’s not pure fantasy either. Aerofex has tested the Aero-X and hopes to have them on sale by 2017. Yours for just US$85,000.

Hailing a cab towards the future

Travis Kalanick, Uber

Travis Kalanick, Uber

Before he became public enemy number one among London’s black-cab drivers, Travis Kalanick launched Uber in San Francisco in 2010. It’s an app that allows you to book a cab and watch it arrive on a map. In four years it’s taken over the world, like a convenient four-wheeled virus that runs at very affordable rates.

And it’s not just for taxis now either. There’s Uber Ice Cream, which allows you to summon a 99 just like a cab, plus Uber Chopper: an on-demand chauffeur-flown helicopter service from New York City to the Hamptons at the far end of Long Island. Uber now operates in over 200 cities around the world, and while not everyone is happy to see them (those aforementioned cabbies for one), it’s a company dragging an age-old industry into the future.

READ MORE: Stuff Innovators 2014 - Life

The future of streamlined hybrid car design

Peter Wouda, Volkswagen XL1

Peter Wouda, Volkswagen XL1

If you want to make something streamlined and aerodynamic, the model to copy isn’t a Formula 1 car or fighter jet – it’s a penguin. Not when it’s in upright waddling mode, but when arrowing its way through the ocean. That’s what exterior design manager Peter Wouda would’ve been aiming for when he crafted the VW XL1 – the most efficient production car in the world.

Everything about it is designed to cut through the air like a hot axe through ice cream, from the extremely low ride height and lack of wing mirrors (it has cameras instead) to the way it tapers towards a flat rear end. Combined with its hybrid of diesel and electric power, VW has managed to eke out over 300 miles to the gallon, and with its tech already filtering through to the VW GTE, it could turn out to be one of the most significant cars ever made.

Words: Will Dunn & Tom Wiggins; Illustration: Rich Kelly

READ MORE: Stuff Innovators 2014 - Superheroes of Tech