Advancements in transportation have long defined mankind’s progress through the centuries. From the wheel to the first automobile to America’s interstate system to space flight, the results of transportation innovation provide more than just new modes of travel – they provide the very bookmarks by which humanity marks its steady march into the future.
And while mankind will always be fascinated by going farther and faster, the 21st century has brought a new chapter in the story of transportation innovation: the quest to get where we want more cheaply, easily, efficiently, and safely than ever before. It will be these goals at the heart of transportation’s future, as evidenced by a fresh infusion of ideas into the industry – from Elon Musk turning his Tesla “experiment” into a game-changing push toward new transportation energy sources, to the far-reaching implications brought by the prospect of driverless cars and smart roads.
While the world’s wonder has remained consistently fixed on developments in transportation innovation, it’s easy to forget that up until about 200 years ago mankind essentially lived for thousands of years with virtually no major improvements in the way they traveled. Indeed, the chariot of ancient Egypt is functionally identical to the covered wagons that brought American pioneers west in the 1800s. Horseback was the preferred method of transport for both 14th-century knights and Civil War generals – an almost absurd thought for anyone accustomed to today’s rapid leaps in technology.
In fact, it wasn’t until the advent of steam power and the internal combustible engine in the 19th century that mankind saw its first steps forward into a future where gains in transportation would reign as the most crucial — and fascinating — factors in our progress as a society. Indeed, our ability to move man and machines touches virtually all other facets of our economic development – from a company’s ability to ship goods to our military’s ability to defend our country.
While we can only guess the transportation innovations still coming our way, history has shown that they will continue to drive both us – and our ideas – into the future.