Despite its surging size—expected to hit 8.3 million by 2030—Riyadh had no public transportation system. But a sprawling state-of-the-art commuter network aims to transform mobility in the kingdom’s capital city. Riyadh Metro, which is scheduled to open this year, consists of six autonomous train lines spanning 176 kilometers (109 miles). And it’s just one part of the world’s largest public transportation initiative, which includes 956 buses covering 1,150 kilometers (715 miles).
7th Most Influential Project of 2021
It’s been nearly two decades since the Concorde made its final flight, but the appeal of ultrafast air travel won’t go away. Boom Supersonic is using US$270 million in funding to reimagine the concept for a more environmentally minded jet set. The company is promising its still-in-the-works Overture aircraft will fly at speeds of Mach 1.7—twice the speed of today’s fastest airliners. The team is developing Overture to run on 100 percent sustainable fuel and to minimize noise—a big complaint against the Concorde. Boom is also working with Rolls-Royce to explore ways to embed sustainability in Overture’s propulsion systems. The first demonstration flight is scheduled for late this year or early next year, with production tentatively slated for 2023.
41st Most Influential Project of 2021
Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) is on a mission to reinvent a bygone mode of travel by creating its own more eco-friendly take on airships. Airlander 10 will produce just a fraction of the emissions of conventional airplanes, with reduced fuel burn, noise levels and turbulence. But the team isn’t skimping on luxury: The 100-seat, hybrid-electric air vehicle will offer floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows set inside a blimp-like exterior. And because it’s designed to take off and land anywhere, the Airlander 10 will mean passengers can skip all that wait time at the airport. The company has already lined up some impressive support, receiving backing from the European Union, U.K. government and U.S. Department of Defense.
47th Most Influential Project of 2021
Already dubbed “the Panama Canal on railroad tracks,” the US$10 billion Bi-Oceanic Railway Integration Corridor aims to link 3,750 kilometers (2,330 miles) of track across South America. Stretching across Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, and possibly Paraguay, the line would mean a speedier connection between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. And that, proponents say, could boost trade and create jobs. Yet while there’s been much buzz about the “region’s biggest infrastructure project,” there hasn’t been much action. Can it get back on track? In March, Argentinian government leaders announced plans would be moving forward, with China Machinery Engineering Corp. delivering some of the project funding.
Talk about rocking the boat. This innovative commercial cargo vessel could soon make iron steamships go the way of the dodo bird. The massive Oceanbird is capable of moving up to 7,000 cars across the Atlantic Ocean, powered only by its five extendable wing sails. The project—a collaboration between Wallenius Marine, Swedish research institute SSPA and KTH Royal Institute of Technology—could reduce emissions by as much as 90 percent compared to today’s diesel-fueled ships. That could be a big win for Sweden, which has set a goal to be climate neutral by 2045.
While other electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers race to reduce charge times and increase driving range, Aptera has taken a decidedly more radical approach. In December, the U.S. auto maker unveiled its own take on the EV—a futuristic-looking machine with an integrated solar array that can power 5 miles (8 kilometers) of travel for every hour in the sun. That translates to roughly 40 miles (64 kilometers) of free-range travel each day, no cord required. That’s not the only big change. The three-wheeled, two-passenger car is shaped like the front of a plane and fabricated from lightweight composite materials that offer strength without weight. Another design shift: The main body is constructed of only four parts, instead of the usual 200 to 300.
Flying taxis may sound sci-fi, but they’re zipping closer to reality as German startup Lilium puts the focus on both aircraft and infrastructure. The company’s six-seater will be an all-electric vertical takeoff and landing jet planned to take to the skies in 2024. To get there, the company has been iterating its way through the design, build and test phases of four generations of prototypes. At the same time, it’s not ignoring the need for infrastructure: In January, it announced a partnership with Ferrovial to develop a network of at least 10 zero-carbon vertiports in major cities across Florida by 2025. Built with modular construction, the hubs allow for passenger take-offs and landings, along with aircraft charging, while requiring smaller footprints than most airports, as the jets don’t require runways. The network of vertiports is expected to put nearly all 20 million Floridians within 30 minutes of a flying taxi.
After four decades of stagnation, the iconic New York City subway map got a decidedly high-tech upgrade. The new digital and interactive map reflects real-time locations of trains throughout the system, automatically updates train lines to show stoppages and single-direction travel, highlights accessibility issues and delivers vastly greater detail. The 18-month project was collaboration between the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Transit Innovation Partnership and design firm Work & Co., with results unveiled in October 2020. But in early 2021, the team added a new feature: the MTA Vaccine Locator allowed people to locate over 450 vaccine centers, with eligibility requirements and appointment schedules available directly through the map.
To clear the road for fully autonomous vehicles, companies will have to figure out how to connect cars with each other and to passengers looking for rides. In February—just in time for the bustling Chinese New Year season—Beijing tech giant Baidu unveiled one option: what it’s billing as the world’s first “mobility as a service” (or MaaS) platform. Partnering with the Guangzhou Huangpu District government, the company rolled out a service to link locals with its fleet of 40 autonomous buses, taxis and other vehicles across more than 50 different pick-up stations.
Nearly 300,000 people cross the Malaysia-Singapore border daily for work—making it one of the busiest land border crossings in the world. And it’s about to get a whole lot faster with a new 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) rapid transit system. By 2026, once the under-construction line is complete, the system is expected to move 10,000 passengers an hour in each direction, cutting border-crossing down to a mere five minutes. The megaproject is the brainchild of RTSO Link, a joint venture formed in 2020 by public transport companies from each country: Prasarana Malaysia Bhd and SMRT Corp. Ltd. And company leaders are determined not to let the pandemic stand in the way of project progress—awarding RM1 billion in contracts for systems in May.