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The Next Generation of Luxury Travel

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Written by: Northern Trust

Could the future hold a Jetsons-like world of luxury travel?

The adage that the journey is more important than the destination has been tossed about and reworked by poets and songwriters for centuries. In another decade or two, the journey may take an even more unconventional route.

Today’s cramped commercial airplanes and gas-guzzling cars may someday be replaced with autonomous cars, two-wheeled vehicles and even trips to space. Here’s a look at a few far-out concepts that just might become reality.

Luxury Travel at Hypersonic Speeds

The future of air travel could include aircraft that travel at hypersonic – that’s faster than supersonic – speeds. U.K. company Reaction Engines is studying the possibility of hypersonic aircraft that could take people from Brussels to Sydney in less than five hours, compared to 22 hours today.

In the shorter term, air travel could undergo changes to remove some of the current headaches. For example, new models for shared private jets continue to emerge. With concierge travel company ClipperJet, $9,500 a month buys four one-way flights plus unlimited flights on a standby basis. For now, the company flies its Gulfstream jets, which accommodate up to 19 people, between Los Angeles and New York. But the company plans to add more legs. Similar models might become popular in coming years, promising alternatives to coach or first-class travel.

Commercial flights may get a facelift, too. Airbus has introduced a concept cabin that it envisions for the year 2050. It includes private, luxury travel cabins that passengers can design however they want – as an office, a bedroom or even a park – using virtual projection technology. A central communal section of the plane could morph to passenger desires: one moment a bar, the next a space for virtual golf competitions.

Luxury Travel on the Ground

The future of ground transportation might not be quite as exotic as that of air travel, but it could be quite different from the SUVs we’re accustomed to today.

Future ground travel may include an increasing reliance on two-wheeled vehicles, some amount of automation and many more Uber-type services, says Daniel Sperling, professor of civil engineering and environmental science and policy as well as the director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Two-wheeled vehicles could be used for short trips in the neighborhood, to the store, a friend’s house or to get around downtown. But two-wheel doesn’t mean bike, motorcycle or Segway. GM unveiled a futuristic two-wheeled, electric concept vehicle that’s fully enclosed, seats multiple people and can self-drive.

The biggest limitation to such vehicles is they’re suitable for low-speed trips and as such might not be appropriate on current-style roads, Sperling says. However, entire downtown areas could be restricted to low-speed vehicles or new roads could be built in suburban areas for such vehicles. Sperling notes that some retirement communities already cater to low-speed golf carts.

Some fairly recent developments will influence how we use full-size cars in the future. Services like Uber and Lyft, which let drivers use their own cars to ferry people around, currently operate like taxi substitutes. “But the next step is that they’ll take multiple riders,” Sperling says. The result is that such services will become even more ubiquitous, reliable and convenient for users.

Eventually, driverless cars also may take you to your destination, but expect baby steps at first. “They’ll probably be used in some limited applications, like in gated communities or maybe within a parking garage,” Sperling predicts.

That’s because regulators may be far from deeming autonomous cars truly safe. “If you think about computers now, they break down. Their reliability is not very high,” he says, adding that it may be a long while before the computers that run self-driving cars match the safety record of current human-driven cars. In the meantime, automation technologies are making their way into cars – adding situation awareness to vehicles and some ability to react or warn drivers behind the wheel.

Luxury Travel in Space

For the true adventurer, space tourism may be an option for the future. Despite last October’s fatal crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2), Richard Branson declared that his company will continue to develop a commercial space program and that the more than 700 pre-registered space tourists will have the opportunity to experience weightlessness.

A trip aboard Virgin Galactic’s aircraft will be truly about the journey, given that its excursions won’t actually have a destination. The company initially promised that its “affordable space tourist flights” would start in 2007 but that first trip hasn’t happened – and the Oct. 31 crash of SS2 undoubtedly will cause further delays.

Assuming it does start operating in the future, $250,000 could buy three days of training and an excursion that entails five minutes of weightlessness in space before returning to earth.

Space technology startup Bigelow Aerospace plans to build a space habitat that it will lease to paying customers. While the company primarily is targeting the research community, consumers can spend two months in space living in a 4,000-cubic-foot home for a $50 million. Bigelow’s habitat isn’t in place yet – and the company isn’t publishing a target date – so this one could be for future generations.

So tighten your seatbelts. The destination and journey for luxury travel may take you to some interesting destinations. 

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