For millenia, the wheel has revolutionized life on planet Earth – it powered human development, was literally a cog in the Industrial Revolution, and let us travel really, really fast from A to B. However as scientists try to wean us off our fossil fuel dependency, engineers are developing new concepts for transportation that could completely change how we get around. Read on for a look at several novel transportation systems that eschew wheels in favor of next-generation technologies.

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One such idea is the Aero-Train, a levitating plane-like vehicle that travels 10 cm above the ground at a mind-blowing 350km/h (220mph). Using a method called the “ground-effect”, the Aero Train literally flies inches above the ground on a cushion of air. Powered completely by wind and solar energy, the zero-carbon design also significantly decreases the friction that makes more traditional rail travel inefficient. The Aero Train is currently a prototype at the Tohoku University in Japan, but they hope it can be in public use by 2020.

On the other hand, China and Asia are already using trains that don’t need wheels – mag-levs. In China, mag-lev train lines currently run between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and an interchange for the Shanghai Metro, where they operate a mere few centimetres above the earth. Using a magnetic field, the trains are able to eliminate ground friction to achieve speeds of up to 581km/h (361mph), and a next-gen train is currently being developed that can hit 1000kph.

So what does the future hold for the wheel? Speaking to the BBC, Richard Anderson, managing director of the Railway and Transport Strategy Centre at Imperial College London said, “The steel wheel on steel rail has been in existence for nearly 200 years and it hasn’t fundamentally changed in all that time. There’s a momentum in the industry that steel rail is a juggernaut that can’t be stopped. It’s here to stay.”

But with so many countries, including the US, pursuing the most efficient ways to develop high speed rail could trains with wheels soon go the way of steam engines?

Via BBC News